Audrey Betcher has announced her retirement, after more than two decades as director of the Rochester Public Library.

She broke the news Wednesday, nearly 25 years after joining the library staff, with 21 of those years spent leading the organization.

Audrey Betcher
Audrey Betcher

“I’m ready to spend time with family and friends, and do more traveling and exploring,” she said in a statement released by the city.

She said the pandemic gave her a new perspective on what she wants to do in the coming years, noting she has “a few volunteer opportunities to keep me busy.”

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While working her full-time job, Betcher has been serving as a tutor with the Rochester Reading Champions program and as president of her Rotary Club.

Library Board President Antinea Ascione credits Betcher with guiding the library through significant changes over the past few years, earning the organization local, state and national recognition.

“Audrey is committed to serving the community by listening, learning, and taking action, all while keeping her large team focused on the overall library mission,” Ascione said.

When Betcher joined the city staff as assistant director in August of 1996, libraries throughout the nation were grappling with how technology might change community needs.

“We were still loaning out VHS tapes, audio cassettes, and vinyl records in 1996,” she recalled.

As the library’s collection changed, so did the organization’s role in the community.

“Libraries were primarily focused on being repositories for books in the 1990s,” she said. “We know today’s library serves a much broader purpose as a community gathering space and connector of people.”

In recent years, Betcher has continued to take on new challenges.

Rochester City Administrator Alison Zelms considered Betcher a key collaborator, bringing cohesion to the city leadership team.

“While I’ve only had the last six months to work with her, it’s clear that Audrey’s commitment to serving the community has benefited the city,” Zelms said. “Her dedication to listening to community members and working with community partners has provided valuable insight to the leadership team.”

She added that Betcher’s forward-thinking energy has been helpful in evolving relationships to assure continuous improvement that reaches beyond the walls of the library.

In 2012, Rochester Public Library began shifting more energy into programming efforts, following a community-guided strategic planning process.

“We gathered input from community partners and developed a robust programming plan,” Betcher said of creating a plan that led to sweeping changes in library program offerings, with a focus on literacy.

“Rochester Reading Champions is a direct result of our ‘big shift,’ ” she said.

The library’s latest strategic plan is also generating a swerve, as the organization works toward furthering its goal of building equity in the community.

Ascione cited Betcher’s leadership during the past decade, especially her commitment to meeting the needs of the community, as critical to the library winning the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Services.

“Audrey listened to the community, listened to her team, and built strong partnerships to execute our strategy, with strong emphasis on increasing and advancing equity efforts,” Ascione said. “Through those partnerships, the library fostered a welcoming environment, often giving underrepresented members of our community a place to belong.”

Betcher contends that libraries are one of the last places where “people from all walks of life can converge and share ideas.”

Her official retirement date is early 2022, and Zelms said the library board’s personnel committee is working with the city’s Human Resources and Administration departments to “assure a successful recruitment and hiring process for this key position.”