WATSONVILLE—Carol Heitzig said that she doesn’t like to travel.
“I’ve barely been out of the state,” Heitzig said.
But for the past 48 years, she has helped old, young and everyone in between see the world, travel through time and explore the universe as an unsung gatekeeper of the magic of reading.
Heitzig is ready to pass that responsibility on to the next generation. She is retiring as the Director of the Watsonville Public Library on July 9.
She has worked for the library for 36 years, including 13 as its leader.
“You get to a point in your career when you say, ‘It’s time for somebody else,’” she said. “There’s so many new and exciting things that were going on in the library world before [the pandemic] happened. New technologies. New ways of doing things. Increased outreach. New people coming up in the field… It’s time.”
Heitzig said she took over as director while the state-of-the-art Civic Plaza that houses the 42,000-square-foot, two-story library was still under construction. It opened to the public in 2008 and quickly became a community gathering place for all—whether it was a young child reading a book, a group of Cabrillo College students studying or an adult looking for some peace and quiet.
Heitzig said she tried to create an inviting atmosphere for all ages through the library’s extensive and varied collection, including its stockpile of classic movies and black and white musicals she helped handpick.
During her time as director, the library also digitized more than a century’s worth of newspapers, vastly expanded its internet access and created programs such as LibraryLink, which delivers books to members who cannot easily leave their homes.
She gave much of the credit for those accomplishments to her staff and the hundreds of community members that have volunteered over the years.
“I’m proud of what the library is now and what it means to the community,” she said. “I think it’s a good time to leave. I just didn’t think my last three months would be under these circumstances.”
Because of the pandemic the library has had to limit its services, and push some of them online to its virtual format. There, members can browse a multitude of resources scattered throughout the web such as ebooks, online classes, music, movies and more.
Watsonville’s library was one of the first in the Bay Area that offered curbside pick-up and smoothly transitioned to the predominantly online format when the state-issued stay-at-home order went into effect.
And when the online services failed or members instead chose to phone in, Heitzig got a chance to help folks the old fashioned way: over the phone—something she has not done for years.
“When you’re the director of something, you don’t get to spend a lot of time with the actual people,” she said. “I have been answering questions, having conversations with people, and it’s really put me in touch with how important it is to be a librarian and offer these services to people—especially in these times.”
Heitzig was born and raised in San Jose. As a child, she quickly found a passion for books, classic movies and musicals. Those interests never faded.
After earning a pair of degrees (English and Library Science) from San Jose State University, she found a job at an elementary school in the Berryessa Union School District as a de facto librarian. She worked there for 12 years before joining Watsonville.
While visiting Monterey she read a job listing for a children’s librarian in the small agricultural city.
“We took a trip up the coast and Watsonville, at that time, Main Street was the San Jose of my childhood,” she said. “I just fell in love with it.”
Heitzig said she doesn’t have a “bucket list” ready for her retirement. She simply wants to volunteer, read more books, watch classic movies and visit her son, who is a chef in Washington D.C., more often. She also wants to wade through what she called “35 years of stuff” trapped in her office.
“No big ambitions,” she said. “I’m not going to set the world on fire at this point.”
Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker said Principal Librarian Alicia Martinez will step in as interim director for “the next several months.” He did not say when the city will hire a permanent replacement. He did, however, say that Heiztig leaves a “tremendous legacy for years to come.”
“Carol has been the heart of the Watsonville Public Library for the last 35 years,” Huffaker said. “Under her leadership, the library has become a vibrant community gathering place, welcoming to all people, often bustling with activities, from teaching kids to read, to lighting talks on local history, and multicultural art exhibits.”
Heitzig said whoever steps into her role will have the opportunity to work for a city government that cares for its employees and community. Very few librarians get a chance to speak to their city managers, Heitzig said.
Huffaker, however, met with Heitzig once a week and has an open-door policy—currently an open-phone policy—for any issues that may arise.
“It’s been a privilege. Watsonville, it’s a wonderful community,” she said. “The city, itself, is a wonderful organization to work for…. The care, the concern and the commitment of the people that work here and have for this community is really remarkable. It’s been a real pleasure, and I’m really going to miss it.”