Library Director Kathy Ritterhouse will be honored at a reception at the Grand Prairie Main Library from 4 to 6 pm on Thursday, May 30.
Ritterhouse recently announced that she will retire on May 31 after 34 years of employment with the city. She is only the third Library Director in the history of the city since the library first opened in the mid 1930s. Ritterhouse began at age 27 as Circulation Librarian for Grand Prairie after working at libraries since the age of 16. When she came to the city on July 1, 1979, Grand Prairie’s population was 70,000, the library budget for buying books was $20,000 and the 8,000-square-foot Grand Prairie library was located at 326 W. Main St. By December 1979, the library celebrated the grand opening of a new 20,000-square-foot building at its current site at 901 Conover Dr. The former director retired and Ritterhouse was named Director on Feb. 1, 1980.
“In the larger building, we had to restructure the staff, develop an organization chart and build credibility with our patrons,” Ritterhouse said. “We had a bookmobile, but no branch libraries. The bookmobile mainly traveled to schools and a few neighborhoods.”
Through the years the library added more programming for children, brought in educational displays, automated the card catalog system in the mid 1980s and added one Apple 2 computer for patrons in 1984. Newer, more modern computers were added in the 1990s and the library expanded to 40,000 square feet in 1999. The South Grand Prairie Betty Warmack Branch Library opened in April 2001 and the Bowles Branch opened in 2006. Today, the Grand Prairie library system houses 228,865 items in its collection.
“The library is a much busier place than it was in the early 1980s,” Ritterhouse said. “In addition to our traditional patrons looking for books, every day we have numerous people come to the library with their laptops to use our Wifi and library computers and our reference questions are up 40 percent today compared to three years ago.”
Ritterhouse has been working with the library systems in Arlington and Mansfield to develop a partnership for sharing resources, creating group databases, and sharing e-book vendors. In addition to seeing that partnership grow, she would like to see the Grand Prairie Library continue to provide great e-book selections in addition to traditional print books, audiobooks and other media.
“Libraries can’t drop one format to add another,” she said. “We have to offer many options to meet our customers’ needs, and I don’t see traditional books ever totally going away.”
After retirement, Ritterhouse plans to travel to Ecuador and Ft. Lauderdale, visit her parents in Kansas, pick up running and mountain biking again. She will also make time to read more, volunteer in the community and spend time knitting, sewing and quilting.
“Kathy has provided outstanding leadership, library services and programming during the last 34 years,” said Anna Doll, City of Grand Prairie Deputy City Manager. “Thousands of Grand Prairie children have benefited from the summer reading program, and all ages have enjoyed and learned from the vast collection that is available at our library. Kathy will be missed and we wish her the best in her future endeavors.”