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A new chapter awaits: Detroit Lakes library director Mary Haney to retire Jan. 31

Detroit Lakes Public Library Director Mary Haney readily admits that even she uses her smartphone for just about everything these days. Haney will be retiring from her position at the library on Jan. 31. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

These days, most Detroit Lakes residents know Mary Haney as the director of the Detroit Lakes Public Library, a position she has held since Sept. 3, 2001.

But the long time Detroit Lakes resident — her parents, Jim and Theresa Haney, moved to the community in 1961, when Mary was just seven years old — also had a legal practice here in town for many years.

"I handled primarily three areas of law: family law, estate planning and probate," Haney said, adding that she continued to operate her practice in Detroit Lakes for 20 years after obtaining her juris doctorate degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in Minneapolis.

And then, one day, she decided she was done.

"My brain wanted something new to do," she said, adding, "After 20 years of doing anything, it's time to move on, or at least that's how it is with me."

So Haney went back to school — but the area of study she chose, library and information science (LIS), wasn't one that was readily available in the area.

"At the time, there were no ALA (American Library Association)-accredited library science programs in Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota," she explained. "The University of North Texas had started a distance education program in Minnesota, when the dean of the school of library and information science realized that Minneapolis is closer to Denton, Texas (the university's home base), than El Paso, Texas is, and they already had a distance ed program in El Paso... so why not start one in Minnesota, right?

"At any rate, I was searching online for a LIS program and ran across the University of North Texas's website, that had a banner saying, 'Ask about our Minnesota program,'" Haney continued. "So I did, and that's how I got into the North Texas program. Some of the classes were held by interactive TV at St. Cloud State and some were entirely online. I only had to go to Texas for about a week and a half, so I never moved away from Detroit Lakes."

Though she obtained her Master of Library and Information Science (MILS) degree while still living and working in the community, Haney said, "I wasn't planning on staying in Detroit Lakes. I thought I would have to leave the community, and that's what I planned on doing. I interviewed in several other locations — and was offered jobs — but at the same time, my current position came open, so when I was offered this job, I turned down the other jobs I had pending and ended up staying right here, in my hometown."

It's a decision she hasn't regretted. After all, not only does her family still live in the area, but she loves her work.

"I love interacting with people, talking about what they're reading, watching on TV, listening to," Haney says. "That's called reader's advisory, and I love doing it. There's no better place to work than a library."

But on the other hand, Haney says, she's once again ready to move on to a new chapter.

Looking forward

"I qualify for Medicare now," Haney says simply, alluding to the fact that she recently turned 65. "I have a lot of other things I want to do."

Some of her plans include traveling, gardening, spending time with family, and cleaning house — literally.

"I may actually get my house clean for a change," she laughs.

As for traveling, "I have several trips planned," Haney says, "starting with one to Key West, Fla., in February."

Her gardening plans include doing something with the big yard outside her home in Detroit Lakes, which she has no plans to vacate in the immediate future.

After all, she adds, most of her family still lives within an hour's drive.

Though her mother Theresa passed away a couple of years ago, her father Jim still lives in Detroit Lakes, and she also has a brother, Jim Jr., in Moorhead, and a sister, Liz Malecki, in Fargo.

"I also have five nephews, three of them with children," Haney said, adding that she truly enjoys "hanging out and playing with" an assortment of great-nieces and great nephews, who range in age from 3 to 11.

But all of that is still a couple of months away, Haney noted: "My last day is Jan. 31."

Until then, she'll continue to do the job she loves — though it's a job that has changed a lot over the years.

Looking back

"I had been the director here for a little over a week when very bad things happened in America," Haney said, referring to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We were scrambling for information (at the library), so I plugged the TV in and tried to get it to work," said Haney, adding that she was forced to use an old-fashioned "rabbit-ear" antenna, as the library didn't have cable television.

Of course, they also didn't have web streaming, as the Internet was a lot more basic back then.

"Technology has changed a lot," Haney said. "When I started here, we provided lots of homework help, for students of all ages, and we still had quite a large reference section of books in print.

"It took a long time for e-books and e-readers to really have an impact on us," she said. "What really had the biggest impact was the widespread use of smartphones."

Today, Haney said, people use their phones for everything, including research and homework help — "even though they aren't always getting their information from the most reliable resources," she added.

"You really have to use your common sense and intelligence to find reliable resources — and libraries are really great at helping people sort that out," she added with a smile. "They always have been."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

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