Sabbe retires after 44 years

LIBRARY DIRECTOR Nancy Sabbe is counting down the days until she will leave the office she has held since an addition was put on the Madison Public Library. After 44 years, she will be retiring at the end of January.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a great many things to a screeching halt. Among those previously unknown were the plans of Madison Public Library Director Nancy Sabbe.

She had handed in her letter of resignation to the library board on the Friday before the library was closed for the pandemic in March 2020.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” she recalled.

Library staff didn’t know how long the library was going to be closed. No one understood how COVID-19 was spread. Recognizing the challenges, Sabbe told the board to ignore her letter.

She continued to shepherd the organization for nearly two more years. Now, finally, she is counting down the days.

Although she will work through the end of the month, a retirement celebration for Sabbe will be held from 1-4 p.m. on Jan. 14 at the Madison Public Library.

She admits she is frequently asked what she will do in her retirement. Sabbe has a ready answer.

“I have that list of things ‘I’m going to do when I have time’,” she said, adding, “My list is long.”

She took piano lessons as a child and owns a piano. She is going to get that tuned and begin practicing again.

Sabbe is also going to pick up quilting again.

“Years ago, Mary Kenyon taught a quilt-in-a-day class. I took that, and that’s the last time I finished a quilt,” she indicated.

Sabbe has books to read, yarn for knitting projects and a house that “needs help.”

“That’s another project waiting for me,” Sabbe said. “I’ll need to check out some books and look at the pictures to see what might work.”

Knowing she has more than enough to keep herself busy, she is more concerned about crafting a life that doesn’t include the discipline of regular work hours.

“I’m not very well organized without a schedule. I’m not sure how that will work, but I will adjust,” Sabbe said. However, she recognizes she will need a period of transition before embarking on anything.

“To begin with, it will be absolutely nothing,” she said in response to the question, ‘what will you do?’

The library has seen numerous changes in the 44 years Sabbe has served as the library director. Initially, she was the only full-time person on staff; other employees were part-time. When she started, the library had typewriters; now it has computers.

When she started, the library was a mere 4,000 square feet, including the basement which was used for the Children’s Department. During her tenure, another 10,000 square feet were added.

“It took a long time to get to the point where the city said, ‘Yes, we need to do this’,” Sabbe said.

Funding for the addition came from multiple sources, including the city. Fund-raising helped to cover the costs, as did a couple of grants. In the end, the project expanded the space without destroying the character of the historic Carnegie library.

“It’s beautiful; I think it’s gorgeous,” Sabbe observed.

She asked for three things from the architect: windows that open, lots of outlets and a roof that wasn’t flat. She got all three. However, as laptops have become more popular, library staff has learned they don’t have nearly as many outlets as they could now use.

With the changing times, Sabbe has noticed people are using the library in different ways. As a result, she can see the need for even more space.

“Libraries have become gathering places,” she explained. When storytime is held, families come early and stay late to socialize and to provide children with opportunities to play together.

There is the need for collaborative spaces, and the meeting room could be larger for some of the group events which are held at the library.

“It’s nice to see the current space is being used well,” Sabbe said.

In leaving, she has only one regret – that she hasn’t been able to complete all of the projects which are in progress. The one closest to her heart is cataloguing the personal collection of a book collector from Belle Fourche that includes unique South Dakota publications, such as commemorative publications from special events.

“They’re hard to catalogue, but it will be a very nice collection,” she said, noting that she didn’t even know some of the publications existed.

Sabbe admits that she will miss her work at the library, especially the people.

“There are some people I only see here,” she noted.

People are already suggesting ways for her to maintain those connections, such as holding a weekly coffee klatch at the library. Sabbe just shakes her head at that recommendation, but does say she will have to find ways to stay in touch with people.

Sabbe will also continue to be a regular library patron.