Community celebration honors retiring longtime Bud Werner Memorial Library director |

Community celebration honors retiring longtime Bud Werner Memorial Library director

Bud Werner Library Director Chris Painter gets a hug during a community celebration Thursday afternoon at the Bud Werner Memorial Library. Painter is retiring after 37 years as director of the library. (Photo by John F. Russell)

When Chris Painter moved to Steamboat Springs 37 years ago, among the things she brought with her were a love of books and a vision of what a library could bring to its community.

“I think she accomplished more than anyone ever expected,” said longtime board member Barb Ross. “Her insight and vision were always out in front of the board to kind of lead us to a vision that she had of what a library could be in our town. It just kept getting more and more amazing, and she made a space where people could feel comfortable.”

Ross referred to the new library, which was competed in 2008, as the community’s living room where people could learn and explore and gather and enrich their lives.

On Thursday afternoon, the community came together at Bud Werner Memorial Library to celebrate Painter’s career as she moves on to a new chapter. Her plans are to stay in Steamboat Springs, continue to pursue her love of reading and enjoy the community and mountains.

Painter arrived in Steamboat in 1984 after earning a master’s degree and being hired as children’s librarian.

“I was so excited to be able to move to the mountains and start my career here,” Painter said.

Shortly after she started her new position, the library’s director moved, and Painter was almost immediately tapped to be interim director, then despite her desire to remain children’s librarian, she took over the position permanently.

Chris Painter, who is retiring as director of Bud Werner Memorial Library after 37 years, laughs while visiting with community members Thursday afternoon during a community celebration of her legacy. (Photo by John F. Russell)

“In my heart and soul, I really, really wanted to be a children’s librarian more than anything,” she said. “But in the process of running the library as the interim, I just fell in love with Bud Werner, and it was going to be hard for me to let go — I was very honored to take the reins.”

In the four decades since taking the position, she led and oversaw the enlargement and renovation of the old A-frame library in 1987, then spent years planning, implementing and completing a larger expansion and renovation project that was finished in 2008 to create what is the current library. Today, the library has more than 80,000 books, audio books and DVDs. The current size of the library’s digital collections, including ebooks, downloadable audio books, films and magazines, is 990,000 volumes.

It grew from 3,000 square feet with five employees to more than 35,000 square feet and 30 employees. Painter played a key role in putting together a staff of dedicated professionals that library board member Dennis Swanson says is the backbone of the library.

“I think she was able to build a team around a vision to give Steamboat one of the greatest libraries in our state, as far as I’m concerned,” Swanson said. “She had a vision, and the board supported that vision, but she really built a whole team around her that believed in it also — it’s become the center of the community.”

Chris Painter, who has been director at Bud Werner Memorial Library for 37 years, stands with new director Alysa Selby at a community celebration Thursday. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Swanson said that the library offers more than just books.

“It’s also about the community being able to use the library,” Swanson said.” It’s a place for meeting, concerts and other activities that allow people to use the facility that we built.”

Library employee Karen Fitzgerald has worked alongside Painter for 25 years and said the culture Painter created with the staff is a big reason the library is what it is today.

“Visually our library is so beautiful, and what I like for people to know is that our services and commitment to the community are as robust as the place is beautiful,” Fitzgerald said. “Honestly, everything that the library is was seeded from Painter’s vision — I really believe it.”

Painter said she gets asked about what her plans are after she leaves the library, but she says she doesn’t have a great answer.

“One of my younger friends told me to tell people that I’m going to take a gap year because I just want to step back — it sounds so cliche — and enjoy life,” Painter said. “I have no doubt that I’m going to stay very busy. … I do hope to spend a lot of time outside, and I want to spend a lot of time in nature and enjoying everything our valley has to offer.”

The one thing that will remain is the love she feels for the library.

“I valued libraries in the same way that communities value their parks, and their public spaces, as being so vital to community,” she said. “I have always felt that the library is, and should be central, to people’s lives, and if I have accomplished that, I will feel very satisfied.”

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