Helena library director leaving to forge own path

Published 5:10 pm Friday, January 16, 2009

Before Victoria Ashford joined Helena’s Jane B. Holmes Public Library, the library’s circulation was running just below 50,000.

Five and a half years later, at the end of 2008, the library’s circulation hit an all-time high of 164,000. During that time, Ashford has been the difference-maker.

“When, I got here, the library was a good library,” she said. “I wanted to make it a great library.”

Now that Ashford has done so, it’s time for her to move on and create success somewhere else. Her last day as library director will be Feb. 5.

“I’ve accomplished all the goals I had here. It was a goal I had for myself to stay three to five years,” she said. “I wanted to get the library to a point where I could hand it off. I wanted to make it a library for the future.”

Ashford’s assistant director, Tracy Arnold, said she’s done just that.

“She’s taken the library from an unorganized mess. She listens to what people want,” Arnold said. “She can leave knowing she’s made the library a better place.”

Ashford, who has degrees in education and a stint as an officer in the Air Force, is starting her own business, Excelcis Training and Consulting, Inc.

“When I was in the Air Force, I was a training officer. We would travel all over the country to visit other bases and teach their personnel how to be trainers,” she said. “I enjoyed the challenge of that. I enjoy watching people get those ‘a-ha’ moments. I loved it. That’s what I’m good at.”

While Ashford loved the challenge of working at Helena’s library, she never quite forgot that feeling. Last year, while visiting other libraries to speak about working with patrons, she felt the call to go into consulting and training again.

“It rekindled that spark,” she said. “I want to do more speaking on a national level with libraries. I’m very much aware of the issues that face libraries. With the economic situation, libraries are even more vital to people.”

Since Ashford has been the director, she’s seen how necessary technology is for a library’s well-being.

“The major changes in technology are driving the changes in libraries today,” she said. “Having to adapt to that means more training, and the staff has to adapt and catch up to what the public already knows.”

Ashford said she’s most proud of leaving a productive, happy staff to help carry on the library’s legacy.

“That doesn’t happen by accident. It’s taken work to get this staff happy and take this library to a place where all ages and stages want to be here,” she said. “I received support from the mayor, Library Board, staff and community. We have a phenomenal library, and it wasn’t done alone.”

Helena councilmember and Library Board member Cris Nelson said the board would have a hard time replacing Ashford.

“She’s irreplaceable,” Nelson said. “She’s done just a wonderful job. She’s been a great asset.”

While Ashford is leaving to follow her heart, she’ll leave a small part of it at the Jane B. Holmes Library.

“You want to have people think of the library as a place to go, a destination, rather than a last resort,” she said. “I’m proud of my work and what my team has done, but there’s so much more that can be done.”