Person of the Week
Deb Smith: Creating Community Through Books
Deb Smith joined the Essex Library as executive director in July and has since immersed herself in the library and the community. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Coming to Essex with an impressive résumé, Deb Smith brings a strong sense of excitement and verve to her new job as executive director of the Essex Library Association. Smith hit the ground running on July 1, the first official day of her job, and she hasn’t stopped yet.
“I believe that libraries play an important role in today’s society. They are the windows to the world, as well as our connection to our communities,” Deb says. “In the digital age, libraries play an important role in helping people select quality resources and identify fake news. Beyond the books, libraries offer content that is important to the community of all ages through lectures, programs, book talks and more.”
What began as a youthful admiration for books of all kinds, Deb fell in love with the Dr. Seuss book Come Over to My House, which explores and celebrates different cultures. As a life student of that book and learning in general, Deb made many bike trips to her local library in Virginia and brought home as many books as she could carry.
She fed her voracious appetite for learning and earned her B.A. in cultural anthropology at Oberlin College in Ohio. She also attended New York University Tisch School of Arts, where she earned her master’s degree in performance studies and earned her master’s in library information science from Kent State University online in 2018.
Books acted as her window into a larger world and when she began her career, she traveled extensively, following in the footsteps of those she had read about. She worked as a college instructor in both India and Singapore where she taught social sciences and speech.
Her experiences, as well as her love for libraries, made her a perfect choice for her current position, bringing her career path full circle—she had her first job shelving books in a library as a teenager.
Keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of modern-day libraries, Deb plans to ramp up the 130-year-old Essex Library’s online presence with an e-library, which delivers services electronically. At the same time, she plans on respecting the traditions of the past and is excited about library’s role as a welcoming building where she will meet community members, patrons, and supporters of the library in person at the many events planned for the future, including the upcoming annual meeting, which will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 5 p.m. at the library.
The annual meeting is when members of the library association (who have paid an annual due of $35) will have the opportunity to vote on four new members of the board. In addition, Deb hopes to meet many community members at the event, which is open to the public and will include refreshments.
Deb explains that one of the anticipated hardest part of her new position is mapping out the course for the future of the library. She hopes to incorporate more opportunities for the employment of young people.
“Currently we have one high school student who helps out in the children’s department and I hope to be able to offer more student jobs in the future for young people who have an affinity for books,” Deb says.
Using her fundraising experience as well as her other expertise, many of which were honed over her 15-year career at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Deb is also eager to get to work on fundraising events.
The library is only partially funded through the town government, the library has to raise the balance of that budget through fundraising events and direct patron support. Deb is looking forward to upcoming fundraisers such as the Festivals of Dinners, which will take place in November.
In her small amount of free time, Deb loves to research genealogy and local history. One of her favorite tasks is to include historical tidbits in the library’s newsletter What to Read, Watch and Do Next.
She of course also loves to read.
“I have too many favorites to pick from, but I do enjoy reading mostly non-fictions about social sciences by Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Ariely,” Deb says, noting she hasn’t really ever met a book she didn’t like.
Having moved to the nutmeg state in 2001, Smith resides in West Hartford and is glad to be an almost two-decade resident of Connecticut. She encourages anyone who stops by the library say hello.