Thanks to my network of well-compensated spies, I was just recently tipped off to the existence of today’s interview subject, Sarah Zawacki. Sadly, our interview had already concluded when it was brought to my attention that she shared her home with a domesticated hedgehog by the name of Mabel (seen below), so I didn’t get to ask any probing questions about its care… From now on, you can be sure that I’ll be asking all of my interview subjects, “Do you have an unusual pet?” …In the meantime, though, please join me in welcoming Sarah to Ypsilanti.
MARK: OK, Sarah, let’s start at the beginning. Where were you born? And, if you weren’t born in Michigan, what first brought you here? Was it a job, a university program, your parents, a loved one… Or did you just wake up and decide one day that, for whatever reason, you had to be a part of the Michigan renaissance?
SARAH: I was actually born in Michigan, and I’ve been here my whole life. I grew up in Livonia and then moved to Grand Rapids for college. I came back to this side of the state for grad school at Wayne State. I’d been living in Plymouth for a few years when a new job brought me to Ypsi in September.
MARK: Do you ever feel as though you should try living someplace else?
SARAH: I’ve always been open to the idea of living someplace else. I’ve stayed in Michigan mostly because of school, and now my career. I considered moving after high school, specifically to Chicago, but, for various reasons, I went to college in Grand Rapids instead. Sometimes I regret that decision, as I think it would have been a good experience for me at that age to explore a big city on my own, but, in the long run, I know I went to the right school. More recently, I’ve looked for and applied to jobs all over the country. While I wanted to stay in Michigan, with family and friends, full-time positions in my field are scarce, so I knew I had to look everywhere. Although I did focus my searches on certain places, like Chicago and New York, where I wouldn’t mind moving if I had to, it ultimately worked out that I found jobs in Michigan.
MARK: What were you doing in Plymouth?
SARAH: I moved to Plymouth because of work. I’m a librarian, and got my MLIS degree in August 2011. Soon afterward, I got a part-time librarian job in Milan and was commuting there while working a second, non-library, job in Livonia. Plymouth was a convenient location between the two, and I liked the Old Village area there. About a year later, I got a second part-time librarian job in Plymouth and was living within walking distance to the library, which was really nice… One of the reasons I became a librarian is the positive, integral role a library has in a community. To me, it’s really important to be a part of that community, so I loved living and working in Plymouth at the same time.
MARK: And would I be right to assume that it was a full-time librarian position that now brought you to Ypsi?
SARAH: That’s right. My schedule was completely crazy from working the two jobs, especially with one of them involving a commute to Milan. So, when a full-time librarian position opened up at the Ypsi library, I applied, and ultimately got the job. I’m not a big fan of driving in general, so I’ve never liked commuting. Plus, like I mentioned before, I wanted to live in the same community as the library. I started looking for places in Ypsi and found a place in Depot Town that I love.
MARK: What is it about Depot Town that you love?
SARAH: All the history! I love history, so I’ve started reading about the different buildings and streets, and learning about the past of Depot Town, and Ypsilanti in general. I just get really excited knowing that I live in a historic area, right by a Civil War barracks! …Or, what’s left of one… And I love knowing that there are all kinds of stories for me to discover and research. I also really like all of the other things Depot Town has to offer, like the farmers’ market and restaurants, and that it’s still so close to downtown, too.
MARK: What’s one of the more interesting things you’ve discovered thus far about the history of your new neighborhood?
SARAH: I keep coming across little bits of information that I want to follow up on and learn more about. Some of this is probably old news (pun totally intended) to people who have been here for a while, but I’m finding it really fascinating. For example, around 1900 or so, Ypsilanti natural mineral water that could supposedly cure all kinds of diseases and ailments. People would come from all over to drink and bathe in Ypsilanti water. My favorite thing so far has been learning the history of the library, though.
MARK: Now we’re told not to even wade into the river. If I’m not mistaken, it has something to do with dioxin contamination… Or, how’s this for a conspiracy theory… Maybe the pharmaceutical industry just doesn’t want us getting super healthy and living forever, unaided by drugs!
SARAH: Haha! Well, I don’t really believe that the water had any kind of healing power, but it would be nice if the river could be enjoyed more by residents.
MARK: What do you find particularly interesting about the history of the Ypsi Public Library?
SARAH: I liked reading about the growth of the library over the years and how it’s moved into different buildings and locations. I also enjoyed seeing old bibliographies of recommended books that were typed on a typewriter and other original documents. That is probably my favorite part, seeing original papers and other pamphlets and seeing how librarians in the past did things.
MARK: You mention a dislike of driving. I’m curious to know if your decision to settle in Depot Town was in any way influenced by the prospect of a rail stop on the Ann Arbor – Detroit commuter line, which we’re told is imminent.
SARAH: That was definitely something that I was aware of. Right now I’m renting an apartment, but I would like to buy a house in the next year or two, and I want it to be in the Depot Town area. The prospect of that rail stop is really appealing to me since I already go to Ann Arbor and Detroit quite often and it would eliminate a lot of driving for me. So I really do hope it is imminent like they say.
MARK: How walkable are you finding Ypsilanti?
SARAH: I’m pretty happy with how walkable Ypsi is overall. Like I mentioned earlier, I can walk to a farmers’ market when its open. Or, I can go over to the Food Co-op for other groceries. I can easily walk to get a cup of coffee with friends. Even when I was first moving into my apartment and needed screws for some shelves, there was a hardware store right downtown that I could walk to. There are still things that I drive to, but overall I like that there is the option to walk to so many different places, especially local and independent businesses.
MARK: If you could bring any kind of business to downtown Ypsilanti, what would it be? (My response to this question, in case you’re curious, is an awesome Indian restaurant with a rooftop gay bar.)
SARAH: I’d have to go with a movie theater that only shows old movies, with a heavy emphasis on ones from the 20s and 30s. And it would also have a bar and should probably serve pizza, too.
MARK: We apparently have a shared fondness for old movies… Let’s say we were able to turn our local strip club, Deja Vu, back into a theater (it had been the Martha Washington Theater for decades) and you were given the task of programing the first double feature… What films would you show?
SARAH:This needs to happen, like right now. I’ve been watching a lot of William Powell movies lately so I would pick The Thin Man (Myrna Loy is so perfect) and My Man Godfrey (with Carole Lombard — also perfect). Or, I would go with silent movies since more people need to watch them! First, I’d pick The Windwith Lillian Gish because it was the first silent movie I saw all the way through, and I loved it. Second would be It because Clara Bow is one of my all time favorites. What would you pick?
MARK: William Powell is one of my favorites as well, and My Man Godfrey and The Thin Man would both certainly be on my list. (You should know that I also have a well documented Myrna Loy issue.) The prospect of just picking two movies is too hard for me. If I were forced to make a decision, I’d likely try to find a way out of it by doing some research and just showing the first two movies that were projected at the Martha Washington Theater after its opening in 1915. (By the way, I think I’d like our local strip club a lot more if they’d kept that name.) If I had to choose two movies, though, I’d probably say The Night of the Hunter and It Happened One Night, and build some some kind of “good night / bad night” marketing campaign around it… Damn, that was hard.
SARAH: Both excellent choices! It Happened One Night is a favorite of mine as well.
MARK: How did you find the housing market in Ypsi? Were there decent options in your price range?
SARAH: I initially wanted to buy a house, but I was jumping into things a little too quickly and ultimately decided to rent for a year or so first. However, during the few weeks when I was looking, there were definitely a few options that would have been in my price range. So I’m hopeful there will be some other good options when I am ready to buy.
MARK: Having now worked at libraries in Milan, Plymouth and Ypsilanti, I’m curious to know how your opinions might have evolved in any way concerning the role of a public library in a community. I mean, those are three very different communities, and I suspect that the way they make use of a library is different…
SARAH: They are definitely very different communities. I found myself helping with different types of questions and knowing that certain types of materials or genres are more popular in each one. Doing so really helped me understand the role of libraries, like you said. It really confirmed in my mind that a library and its services need to be tailored to the specific needs of its community. Also, and most importantly, in my opinion, I saw first hand that a library is essential to every community. No matter how it was being utilized, each library I have worked at has always been busy and full of people.
MARK: What have you learned about Ypsilanti through your interactions at the library?
SARAH: I’ve learned that it is a really diverse community with a wide range of interests. I already knew that to an extent before I moved here, but I’ve really noticed that I get asked questions on so many different topics at work. It really makes my job interesting and fun.
MARK: I like your point about living in the community that you serve. It’s something we discuss here on occasion, usually in the context of our public safety officers. Given your experience, why you think it’s important to live in the community that you serve.
SARAH: It’s a personal preference and I know that it’s not possible for everyone, but it’s definitely something that is important to me. I feel like living here is allowing me to understand the community on a more personal level and be aware of what is going on in the area. I can then use that knowledge to provide the best service that I can at my job. Also, the timing worked out that my new job was starting just as my lease was coming to an end and I was able to move out here right away. I think it definitely helped me transition into my new position.
MARK: Given the growing anti-tax sentiment in the country these days, and the resulting budget realities that we’re all being forced to deal with, how, in your opinion, do we go about articulating to folks the importance of public libraries?
SARAH: I think really the best way to show the importance of libraries is for every library to really understand its own community and offer programs and materials that will be useful. As long as a library stays relevant to its community’s interests, I think its importance will continue to be appreciated by people.
SARAH: I accepted the job right away. Deciding to move took a little bit more time, but it was ultimately an easy decision. I had spent time in Ypsi over the years so I knew I already liked the area in general. A friend of mine who had lived here for years took me around to look at different areas and I also looked online for where apartments were available. I ended up renting the only apartment I looked at so everything worked out pretty well.
MARK: Outside of work, how do you envision yourself getting involved in the community and contributing? Do you, for example, have any plans to share the historic research that you’re doing? Or do you have plans to get involved in any local groups, non-profits, etc.?
SARAH: I would really like to get involved! With moving and getting settled at work I haven’t really had an opportunity to do so yet, but I hope to soon. I would love some suggestions!
MARK: Do you have any questions for me or my readers? Is there anything about Ypsi that you’ve been unable to figure out on your own?
SARAH: Pass along any interesting Ypsi history stories, please!
[If you're still curious as to why people would move to Ypsilanti, check out our complete Ypsi Immigration Interview archive and find out.]