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January 23, 2020
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Named as Acton Public Library’s new Director in January, Selma Dautefendic started working in Old Saybrook on Feb. 12. Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News

Named as Acton Public Library’s new Director in January, Selma Dautefendic started working in Old Saybrook on Feb. 12. (Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)

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Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News

(Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)

Selma Dautefendic: From War to Peace

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Growing up in a small town in what is now Bosnia-Herzogovina, the neighborhood public library across the street was Selma Dautefendic’s home away from home. Her parents knew that if they couldn’t find her at their home, the library is where they’d find her.

“My library career started when I was six years old. I was the youngest volunteer in my library. I stamped the new books,” said Selma Dautefendic, the new director of Acton Public Library.

At four years old, Selma was an early reader. Soon she was going to the library and asking to read books other than picture books. When the librarian would not let her check them out, her father stepped in. He walked into the library with a newspaper and told her to read an article aloud for the librarian. She did—and that’s when she finally was allowed to check out the books she was really interested in.

“At nine, I was reading Agatha Christie novels. Then I had a phase when I was interested in folk tales and in comparing stories as they were told in different cultures,” said Selma.

But when she was 12, her world changed when the war began. It lasted for four and half of her teenage years.

“I finished my sixth grade a month and half early because the war started. Then we had no [formal] school for 10 months. But a biology teacher and a math teacher lived in my neighborhood— so they met students in their houses to teach us. My seventh grade year was an expedited program—we finished the year’s work in just five months. By eighth grade, we finally had a normal school year,” recalled Selma.

But her memories of that time are not particularly traumatic—it simply was what it was.

“You would be amazed at how quickly you can adapt to hardship when it becomes normal. You plan your day around when you have electricity or running water. We were fortunate too my hometown was not bombarded a lot—that meant that we had instead of lot of refugees. For 8 months, we had 14 people living in our house,” said Selma.

When the war ended, she was able to return to finish high school and then college in Bosnia-Herzogovina. All the while, she remained focused on a career as a librarian. But she soon learned that her neighborhood librarian’s view of what a library should be, with its poetry clubs and other programs along with the collections work, was not the way the rest of the country viewed them.

“One of my college professors said that the way librarianship is seen in Western countries coincided with my idea of librarianship. In Bosnia, it was only about the book collections. Western libraries were more appreciative of libraries, of what they can offer, and of librarians,” said Selma.

So 10 years ago, she emigrated to the United States. Her first job was as library-media specialist in a Hartford magnet middle school, while also working part-time in an East Hartford public library. And that’s when she discovered her passion, to work in public libraries.

“I fell in love with public libraries. I see the library as the heart of every community. In a public library, you serve people of all ages and all walks of life and that’s what important to me, to have the doors opened for everyone,” said Selma.

So she transitioned into a full-time job in an East Hartford Public Library initially and then to the job of Public Service Manager in the Wethersfield Public Library, overseeing the adult and teen departments and library programming. For the past six years, Selma’s been searching for a job as library director along the shoreline as the boats, beaches, and sunsets on the shore remind her of home. Landing as director of Acton Library she said is her dream job in her dream community.

“Libraries are still going strong. Technology has become a part of the daily life of every librarian, whether through computer online databases and as research tools, however technology has not replaced us as librarians. We are needed to educate and help the communities we serve to acquire skills and knowledge in the 21st century,” said Selma. “For those who haven’t visited the library in a long time, you will be amazed how vibrant libraries have become. From programming for all ages to access to on-line language learning tools, everyone can find something of value to enrich their personal lives.”

When Selma’s not at the library, she stays busy with her many hobbies: ballroom dancing, painting—particularly landscapes—and hiking and camping to experience adventure.

“My personal goal is to visit all 58 national parks. I’ve visited 11 so far,” said Selma.

She has a lot more parks to visit—and a lifetime of adventure ahead of her.


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