Closing the book on a storied career

Pam Nissler is retiring after decades of being a library leader throughout the metro area


In the summertime, it's not uncommon for about 15 family members to gather in the Nissler home for a cookout.

They'll make barbecue ribs and corn-on-the-cobb.

“And s'mores,” said Pam Nissler. “S'mores are big with the grandkids.”

Those are two things Nissler is looking forward to in her retirement — cooking, which is one of her hobbies, and having more time to spend with her close friends and family.

“Our house is the central gathering place for holidays,” she said, referring to the home in Littleton where she and her husband, Perry, have lived for the past 25 years.

Nissler, 73, is retiring Aug. 31 as executive director of the Jefferson County Public Library (JCPL), following 40 years of working in libraries from Jefferson to Arapahaoe and Douglas counties in a variety of roles that included managerial and directorial positions.

Nissler is like a library celebrity, said Donna Walker, the JCPL's director of public services, who will assume Nissler's role on Sept. 1.

“She's made a big difference in Colorado libraries,” Walker said, adding the state's libraries have a reputation of being forward-thinking and at the forefront. “Pam helped give them that reputation.”

Career took her to three counties

Nissler grew up in Ohio and began her working career as a teacher in an area of Pontiac, Michigan, known as the projects.

“There were so many kids with so many problems that had nothing to do with school,” Nissler said.

They faced serious life challenges, including poverty and abuse, she said. But Nissler noticed that the school librarian had a great relationship with the students.

“She had the opportunity to work with them one-on-one and really help make school a little easier for them,” Nissler said. “That was my motivation to get my master's degree.”

Nissler began her library career in 1970 — the same year she graduated with a master's in library science from the University of Denver and moved to Littleton — when she accepted a position as the children's librarian at the Bemis Public Library in Littleton. In the 12 years she was there, she held a couple of different positions, including the library's director for seven years, before she left in 1982 to become a stay-at-home mom.

Nissler met her husband Perry of 40 years when she was working at Bemis. He was Littleton's city attorney at the time. The two raised four children — two boys, Will and Chris; and Nissler became a stepmother to twin girls, Susie and Stacey. All live locally, except Will, who is in the Navy. The Nisslers now have six grandchildren.

Nissler was hired by the Arapahoe Library District in 1986 where she held a variety of jobs before becoming manager of Koelbel Library in Centennial. She left in 1993 when she had her second son.

But three years later, Nissler began a career with Douglas County Libraries to help oversee construction of the Highlands Ranch Library. She eventually became associate director of community services with Douglas County Libraries and held the position until 2008.

Nissler joined JCPL in 2009 as director of public services. The JCPL Board of Trustees hired her in 2011 as executive director when former executive director Marcellus Turner accepted a position with the Seattle Public Library.

“I've loved everywhere I worked,” Nissler said. “Libraries are important to the community because they welcome everyone and they provide opportunities to learn, to connect, to discover and to create.”

'Always there as a mentor'

Nissler has accomplished much during her time with the JCPL. Along with completing major remodels of the Golden and Columbine libraries, she led the JCPL during an economic downturn, then managed it through a successful mill levy initiative in 2015.

“She followed through with the promises made to voters,” said Peg Hooper, JCPL's adult services manager and manager of the Standley Lake Library in Arvada.

Those projects included catching up on maintenance and refurbishing projects, increasing books and materials, restoring hours and updating technology.

“She wants us to be a great library and she worked really hard to make that happen," Hooper said.

Hooper has known Nissler for about 20 years — she worked under her for 10 years at Douglas County Libraries and has been in her current position with JCPL for nine years.

“She cares about staff personally,” Hooper said. “She's the first to say congratulations when someone has a baby or condolences at the loss of a family member.”

As she looks back on her tenure in Jefferson County, Nissler is pleased and proud of how JCPL's new service model has developed.

The new service model, Nissler said, entails being a place where people are comfortable to study or read in private, being involved with the greater community, having approachable library staff who follow through with patron's inquiries and ensuring people can come find what they want at the library.

“It's satisfying seeing how pleased the patrons are,” Nissler said. “You don't try to generate interest, you reflect it, in terms of what people want from their library.”

Walker, who has been with JCPL for six years, has known Nissler since the early 1990s when she had a part-time position in the Arapahoe Library District.

She made her visions clear, but “let me fly with it," Walker said. "She was always there as a mentor and reminded me what we were aiming for. That's her style — to let people do their jobs.”

Walker is proud of what has been accomplished under Nissler's leadership.

“She secured the future of the library and positioned us well for the future,” Walker said. “She's leaving it with solid footing.”


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