Retiring Winkle spent 10 years as local director, sparked by a lifelong love of libraries and books

Jeff Winkle will retire as director of the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library in January. He has led the library since 2009 and formerly operated the Open Book and Winkle’s Open Book bookstores in town. The Ohio Library Council named him Librarian of the Year this summer. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

Staff Writer

Jeff Winkle is ready to start a new chapter.

Winkle will retire as director of the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library in January. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be seeing him around town.

“I’m not dropping out of sight completely,” he said. “But I’m happy for my responsibilities to switch to home and family.”

Winkle, 65, has been in charge of the local library since 2009. Prior to that, he served as director of Kaubisch Memorial Public Library in Fostoria and the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library. He was named the Ohio Library Council’s Librarian of the Year for 2019.

“Someone asked me, ‘Are you excited, or how does it feel?’ I said, ‘You know, it just feels weird.’ I know it’s time to go. I mean, I can feel that. But I can’t imagine not coming to work every day,” he said.

Books have always played an important role in Winkle’s life. His mother, Mildred Winkle, helped foster his love of books at a young age.

“I have been a reader for as long as I remember,” he said. “Mostly, she just made sure we got to the library.”

Growing up just outside of Van Buren, Winkle said the family regularly visited the North Baltimore Public Library.

“I’ve been there a couple times and it still has the smell that it had. It’s just that wonderful book smell. So our weekly trips to the library meant the world to me when I was a kid,” he said.

Winkle graduated from Van Buren High School in 1973, then went on to earn a degree in public relations with a minor in business at Bowling Green State University. He worked at Gray Drug during school, becoming a manager. But soon after graduating, there was an opportunity to purchase a book franchise called the Open Book in the Findlay Village Mall.

“I just knew that I always wanted to own my own something,” he said. “And there was nothing I cared more about than books, so that was kind of perfect.”

After six years, the store moved across the street to Market Square Shopping Center and became Winkle’s Open Book. In all, he owned the bookstore 20 years. He and his wife, Leslye, made the decision to close the store because it was getting harder to make a living.

“It’s a wonderful business. I wouldn’t trade it for one second. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But we made the right decision, and then it really ended up being the right decision when I was able to get a job here (at the Findlay library) and still be around books and start building a new career,” he said.

The final two years he owned the bookstore, Winkle worked at Fifth Third Bank. After the store closed, he was hired as the extension services manager at the library. He was later named assistant director.

“Then I went right back and got my masters degree, which I knew was going to be the step that had to happen if I was going to lead my own library someday,” said Winkle.

During that time, he worked full-time, attended Kent State University and served on the Van Buren School Board.

“It was a busy time in my life, and our kids were of an age where they were getting involved in stuff, so I think back now and I wonder how we did it,” he said.

Stints as the director of the Fostoria and Tiffin libraries followed, until he returned to the Findlay library as director in 2009.

“You don’t get that many chances as a librarian to run your hometown library, so it meant a lot,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges of his career came soon after.

“My first couple of years here was right when the recession hit, so almost immediately we were looking at ways to cut budgets and laid off all of our pages. We closed on Thursdays. We reduced hours. Everyone’s time was reduced, and then pay was reduced by 10%,” he said. “Those were tough years.”

On the other hand, he said, one of the biggest accomplishments is that the library has become financially stable.

“Since then, we’ve worked hard and been good with our money. I mean, a lot of that is not due to me or us as much as it is to the taxpayers for voting our levy in three times, so we’re greatly appreciative of that,” said Winkle.

He said he’s seen the library change in the past 20 years to becoming more of a community center.

“It’s made us a little noisier, no doubt, but this is a public building, and our goal is to serve the public the best that we can. And if the service that people need is programming and a place to be and a place to read newspapers and to meet and to be tutored and to have tiny business meetings here and there, then that’s what we should be,” he said.

Winkle believes there will always be libraries.

“While things have changed, people still love to read,” he said. “Lots has changed, but really, more hasn’t changed. And literature still means a lot to people. We have different formats now, but it’s just reading.”

Winkle said one of the things he’s most proud of is his part in the founding of the Literacy Coalition of Hancock County and helping to start the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. The book gifting program regularly mails free books to children from birth to age 5.

“I think it will have long-reaching benefits in our community,” he said. “Kids, if they read, they’re going to be more ready for school. If they’re ready for school, they’re going to do better and be more successful their whole lives. As I look back, I’m not sure that isn’t one of the most important things that I’ve done.”

Winkle said he has a lot of home projects to work on in retirement. He also hopes to spend more time with his 4-year-old grandson.

Incoming director Clevidence’s roots run deep amid local stacks

Sarah Clevidence will become director of the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library in January 2020, but has a long history with the institution. She grew up as a library patron, and became an employee at the library just days after her 16th birthday. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

Staff Writer

Sarah Clevidence has nearly four decades of experience at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library. Of course, not all of that is time she’s worked there.

Clevidence, who will become the library’s director Jan. 11, 2020, grew up in Findlay and formed a strong connection with the library in her childhood.

“I came to story time at this library,” she said.

Later Clevidence, now 39, checked out “The Baby-Sitters Club” series library. As a child, “I was a big series reader,” also enjoying the Nancy Drew and Sleepover Friends series.

What did she like about the library growing up? “The books. … The ability to get any book that you want.”

She said she was a shy kid, and the library was a “comfortable place for me.”

In eighth grade, she joined the Youth Advisory Board, a group of teenagers who advise library staff on youth programming. Knowing she had to be 16 to get a part-time job, “my 16th birthday, I came and filled out an application,” starting work at the library several days later.

She recalls being asked the classic job interview question: Why did she want to work at the library?

“I was dumbfounded. Where else would I work?”

Clevidence was promoted from page to audiovisual assistant once she finished high school. She attended Bowling Green State University, majoring in economics, but realized her senior year that the jobs associated with economics — most of which involved “sitting in a cubicle” — didn’t appeal to her. And the coolest adults she knew, she said, were librarians.
She worked as the young adult associate at the Findlay library until she finished her masters degree in library science, then became young adult librarian.

Clevidence would visit schools and talk about books. Central Middle School was at that time located right next to the library, and children would come “pouring in” to request the books she had talked about.

The library’s adult services manager resigned shortly after the 2007 flood that devastated Findlay and closed the library for three months. It wasn’t a good time to search for a new manager. The library asked Clevidence if she would be interim adult services manager, which then led to doing it in the long term.

She came to realize that the adult services job “was a much better fit for me” than the young adult job, adding that Erin Gillespie, who took over the teen position, has done a great job. (Clevidence, in fact, had praise for the library staff in general, noting that the adult services team are “just fantastic people.”)

Clevidence said she enjoys that working at a library is “something different every day … I’m surrounded by books, which I love, but (also) I’m surrounded by amazing people.”
Someone might come into the library asking for a book recommendation, or for help printing their resume.

Clevidence said the thing she’s proudest of is the library’s contribution to CommunityRead. The event, in which all of Findlay is encouraged to read and discuss the same book each spring, was already successful under the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation, but the library did a good job of “growing” it and drawing in community partners when it took the project over, she said.

“I’m a pretty eclectic reader,” Clevidence said. “Nothing scary and I don’t like sci fi.” But she said she will read anything else, romantic suspense and memoir in particular. She doesn’t often choose books over 400 pages in length, as “there’s so many books I want to enjoy” that she doesn’t commit her time to longer ones. She also listens to audiobooks. And, while Clevidence does of course own books — she said her Christmas list for her parents is always “entirely books” — she also uses the library widely.

Clevidence was part of the team that drafted the staff certification program for the Ohio Library Council and said the programs are “near and dear to my heart.” There are two programs, one for those with a master’s in library science and the other open to anyone working in Ohio public libraries.

“I think it’s important to be able to say to our patrons that our staff is committed to developing their skills in a variety of areas to best serve our community,” she said.

Both programs require ongoing continuing education.

“I think we’ve got an exciting future ahead of us” at the library, Clevidence said.

She noted that the library hopes to acquire the adjacent property from the Hancock County commissioners, and there would be great “possibilities” in expanding the library, including perhaps more meeting space and a larger children’s area.

Clevidence anticipates a “learning curve” as she spends the next three months learning from current library director Jeff Winkle, who will retire in January.

“Jeff’s a fantastic director,” and she expects him to teach her a lot, she said. And she said she may at first find herself thinking “What would Jeff do?”

In particular, she said Winkle is “excellent at always putting the customer first,” and that’s something she wants to continue. She hopes it will be a seamless transition for staff as well as patrons.

In her spare time, Clevidence attends her 13-year-old daughter’s basketball games, and is president of the Findlay Kiwanis Club.

She also likes to — of course — read a lot of books.