Ridgetown native to be Chatham-Kents Chief Librarian

Reading has played an important role in Heidi Wyma’s life since her childhood.

She fondly remembers weekly family trips to the Ridgetown Library to read books and listen to stories.

“My parents were very big on reading and encouraged us to read,” Wyma recalled.

This love of reading in her younger days has led to a rewarding career in library services.

The Ridgetown native – now in McKay’s Corners – was recently announced as the new CEO/Chief Librarian of the Chatham-Kent Public Library.

Wyma replaces the current Chief Librarian, Tania Sharpe, who is retiring after 30 years in the CKPL.She takes over her new role on Dec. 1.

Wyma has a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Western Ontario and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Ottawa. She began her career at the CKPL in August 2009 as Support Services Manager.

Wyma moved to the Civic Centre in 2022 to take the role of Manager of Privacy and Information for the municipality.

“I thought it would be a good career move if I ever had the opportunity to come back as a (Library) CEO,” Wyma said about her brief hiatus from the library.”It helped me learn more about the municipality as a whole and the different departments and helped make some connections.”

When the opportunity arose for Wyma to return as the CEO/Chief Librarian, she had plenty of support in her corner.

“With 25 years of experience in library and information management, including 13 years as Manager of Support Services at CKPL, Heidi has a strong foundation of people and library management skills that are well suited to this position,” said Robert Clarke, CKPL Board Chair.

Audrey Ansell, Director of Community Culture & Connections for Chatham-Kent, said that “Heidi’s experience at both CKPL and the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, as well as her connections with the wider public library community, mean that she is knowledgeable of the climate within which public libraries operate today and is well-placed to ensure that libraries continue to play a vital role in building community culture and connections.”

Wyma’s library career began at the Ridgetown branch while she was a student at Ridgetown District High School.

“I was a page for 10 hours a week, shelving books, helping with the storytime, stamping out books and helping people find information,” she said. “Back then, I hadn’t considered the library as a career. After going to university, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and libraries always appealed to me.”

She said library work can be applied to many different areas in the workforce, such as her job out of university in a special library in Toronto, where she researched pensions and benefits for consulting firms. When she learned of a job opening at the Chatham-Kent Public Library, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I was looking for something that was more pure library and actually helping people,” Wyma said. “And I was looking for an opportunity to come back to Chatham-Kent, to get out of the big city and have more space to live in the country or in a small town.”

“A position came up here. I applied, was lucky enough to be offered the position, and happily returned to this area,” Wyma said.

As Chief Librarian, Wyma will take a lead role in all services and programming provided by the CKPL, overseeing staffing, working with the library board and municipal administration.

She said her first order of business will be getting reacquainted with the board and staff after being away for over a year.

“There is so much good work going on by the dedicated staff and outgoing Chief Librarian. My first steps will be to see where we’re at and the board’s direction and continue building on what we’ve developed so far.”

Being from this area and her experience overseeing the Ridgetown, Highgate and Bothwell branches during her time as support service manager, Wyma has a special appreciation for the branches in the smaller communities.

“Different times during budget, the closing of libraries would come up in the cuts, and we’d hear it from the community,” she said. “We totally understand how important they are to their communities and the support to keep the libraries in the small towns.”

As she takes over her new role next month, she will closely monitor the discussions to move the Chatham branch into the Downtown Chatham Centre as a part of the proposal to relocate the Civic Centre and Chatham-Kent Museum.

Council accepted the administration’s recommendation to consider moving municipal operations into the former Sears section of the DCC, which would include a 35,000-square-foot space for the main library branch and the Chief Librarian would be included in the planning phase.

Clarke delivered a deputation at the Oct. 16 Council meeting saying the Library Board wants no part in a move to the DCC and would prefer expanding the current facility.

“At this point, it’s in Council’s hands,” said Wyma, who will be a very interested observer in seeing how the narrative plays out.

Michael Bennett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News