By SHERIDAN CYR
Just over 11 years ago, the Southington Public Library welcomed a new director who came equipped with a vision and a homegrown love for the community.
After working for 25 years in Wallingford’s library as the head of community services, Sue Smayda decided to take her knowledge and experience to her hometown, where she hoped to better connect with the town and be a resource for all ages.
Smayda will retire from her position at Southington Public Library, along with the built-in position at Barnes Museum, on Friday, June 22. Looking back, she feels she has accomplished what she envisioned back in 2007 when she accepted the job offer.
“My whole vision was to make this library more responsive to the needs of the community,” Smayda said. “As a resident of Southington, I thought I could connect more with the town than I could while I was working in Wallingford. I thought this would be the right job for me, and it was.”
The new director wasted no time getting to work on her goals. She redesigned the layout of the library, moving items that were checked out more often like films and DVDs closer to the entrance for easier access. She made sure to use every inch of possible space to fill with resources (and was even called a “space wizard” by some). She rearranged the computer area, created a teen area, and even gave staff more personal space to call their own.
“I wanted to arrange things in a way that was easiest for the public to find what they were looking for,” Smayda said.
In her time, Smayda knew she wanted to increase the library’s public outreach and programs. They have held public forums to engage with residents and discuss concerns they may have in town, and held two candidacy forums where they invited candidates for the general election in 2016 and the municipal election in 2017 for some Q&A and to meet with voters.
The library has ongoing events for a wide variety of interests, including knitting and crocheting, concerts, cooking, anime, coloring, and chess, just to name a few. They also regularly invite representatives from Wheeler Clinic to come out and be available for questions, and a probate judge comes in once per month. Smayda said the library is a non-threatening, comfortable setting for residents to come in and talk to professionals about their concerns.
“I am hoping that the library continues to seek opportunities for civic engagement,” she said. “Twenty-first century libraries should be engaged in civic life. I am very proud of that.”
Some of Smayda’s best memories came from Southington Reads. Each year, Smayda reached out and booked a best-selling author, and brought him or her to Southington to share their stories with the community.
“I can’t take credit for it, because it started before I arrived, but it gets bigger and better each year and I’m very proud of that. It has been spectacular,” said Smayda. “These are authors that I have admired, and I had the opportunity to meet them and have dinner with them and show them Southington.”
Her fondest memory, though, was the first Freedom to Read event during “Banned Books Week.” She recalls inviting several town officials to come to the library and read a segment of a book from the nationally banned book list.
“This is a whole different aspect of librarianship – the First Amendment. The freedom of speech includes the freedom to read,” she said.
Though Smayda hoped in her time to expand the library to a new, larger building, she insisted the campaign is not over.
“We didn’t get the new building, but we are closer than we were when I got here,” she said. “We’ve created a library advocacy committee that will continue that effort. That project will not go away.”
Now that Smayda is retiring, she looks forward to spending time relaxing, traveling and exploring life. She will also increase her involvement with her church, Plantsville Community Church, and catalogue their entire library. She also looks forward to increasing her volunteering at Bread for Life.
“My best advice for the next director is to get involved in the community, and I’m sure she will,” Smayda said. “As for me, I hope to be remembered for my investment in the community and my engagement, and for being a 21st century librarian.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.