Zahir Mahmoud is calling it quits after 30 years.
On June 28, 68-year-old Mahmoud retired as director of the Waynesboro Public Library.
“Spending 30 years in one place, leaving the work is difficult emotionally,” Mahmoud said, adding he will miss his staff at the library, and working with city government officials.
In his retirement, Mahmoud said he will take time for himself, and get to some home improvement projects he had been putting off. He also wants to volunteer and has plans to write a memoir.
Mahmoud said he will also miss the sense of teamwork he and his staff were fortunate to have together at the library.
In 30 years at Waynesboro Public Library, Mahmoud saw a lot of changes, most notably changing from the card catalogue system which enabled library patrons to find books by looking up titles on 3x5 index cards.
“That was a major change,” Mahmoud said.
The library began to consider an automatic system in 1991, and by 1993 had an automatic in-house system for cataloguing the library’s collection. Patrons began to use computers to find titles.
Mahmoud also saw the first computers for public use come to the library in 1998. Four computers gave the public dial-up Internet access at their disposal.
In 2003, Waynesboro Public Library joined with the cities of Waynesboro and Staunton, and Augusta County to create an online library network called the Valley Libraries Connection.
Mahmoud said he has seen the library’s collection change from only printed books, magazines and newspapers to CD-ROM-based products, then online access.
Mahmoud has also seen the demographics of the library’s patrons change from predominantly white to now more diverse.
“That’s something that I’m glad services are equal to everybody,” Mahmoud said. Waynesboro Public Library provides Internet access for all residents.
Mahmoud said he leaves the library proud of it, and the community that supports it.
“This library has the support of the community a whole lot,” he said.
In 2007, according to Mahmoud, the Waynesboro community voted for renovations of the library, which was one of six capital improvement projects on a bond referendum.
“That proved to me the community supports the library,” Mahmoud said.
Hiserman said Mahmoud “never shied away from change and with the completion of the renovation in 2012 that he oversaw, WPL is an even more welcoming space for the community to gather.”
Mahmoud also commended Friends of the Library, a nonprofit founded in 1966 to focus on the library’s services and needs. Friends of the Library provides fundraising opportunities for the library for purchase of library materials and program funding.
“I have special admiration for Friends of the Library for they have made a lot of contributions as far as advocating for the library services, advocating for funding,” he said. He added that the nonprofit is “what makes this library moving forward.”
“We are thankful for that,” Mahmoud said.
Kathy Hiserman, the library’s publicity coordinator, said that working with Mahmoud “has been an absolute pleasure and he will be greatly missed.”
“Zahir was very passionate about the role he played as library director, and it was evident through the many projects, services and partnerships he supported or implemented throughout the years,” said Waynesboro Public Library’s Assistant Director Elzena Anderson. “The end goal for him was meeting the needs of the community. He improved and built on a legacy that we hope the next director will continue.”
Coming to America
Mahmoud’s path to the River City began in Rhode Island in the early 1980s.
And his story brought him to Waynesboro in 1989.
“I was looking for a smaller place, a smaller town,” said Mahmoud of what brought him to Waynesboro in 1989.
Mahmoud was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he earned a degree in English as a Second Language, and worked at the British Council’s library as an assistant in Kabul for four years.
Political turmoil in Afghanistan encouraged the young Mahmoud family to find a new life outside the country.
Zahir Mahmoud traveled alone at first in 1980 to nearby Pakistan. His wife, Fakhria, and their two young children soon made their way to Pakistan, then the family waited in Turkey for six months for U.S. visas. Another six months of waiting was spent living in Rome, before the family obtained sponsorship to immigrate to Rhode Island in 1981.
Mahmoud earned his master’s degree in library science from the University of Rhode Island, then he and his family moved to Fairfax, Virginia in 1983.
Mahmoud said a large community of Afghans lived in northern Virginia at the time. He worked at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library in Falls Church for five years, but his commute between work and home was one hour to drive 20 miles.
He saw an advertisement in The Washington Post for assistant director of the Waynesboro Public Library.
Waynesboro Public Library’s Reference Librarian Rebecca Lamb said she is grateful to him for hiring her in her first professional library position.
“He was so supportive of my career, allowing me to experiment with programming, adjust collections, and become involved with professional organizations,” said Lamb. “His willingness to try new initiatives and technologies has kept Waynesboro Public Library in front of its community’s needs and has created an institutional culture that is both dynamic and responsive.”
Karen Vest, the library’s archivist, said that he has been a great director, and she has “always admired his ability to maintain a positive outlook no matter what circumstances were presented to him.”
“I thought that the time had come to spend more time with family, and have more time for myself,” Mahmoud said.
He and his wife will continue to live in Waynesboro. Their oldest child, daughter Neelab, lives in Baltimore with her husband and two children. She graduated Waynesboro High School and then obtained a degree in microbiology from Virginia Tech. Son Mustafa, also graduated Waynesboro High and Virginia Tech, and lives in San Francisco. The Mahmouds will travel to California for his wedding in August.
Their youngest, Alexander, 26, was born and raised in Waynesboro, and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Waynesboro Public Library announced at Mahmoud’s retirement reception in June that the library’s conference room will be named “The Zahir Mahmoud Conference Room.”