Saltwater Portrait

Kathy Graybeal takes helm as Sussex County librarian

Passion for lifelong learning leads to career with books
Sussex County librarian Kathy Graybeal stands amid professional reference books in the library administration office in the basement of the county's west complex in Georgetown. BY RON MACARTHUR
October 11, 2011

To say that Kathy Graybeal is passionate about libraries would be an extreme understatement. To her, learning is a lifelong experience, and the library is the ideal location to expand horizons.

Sussex County’s new director of libraries has nearly 25 years of experience at the local and state levels. She started her career as a volunteer at the Lewes library when it was still in town hall. She became a part-time employee when the library moved to its current location and eventually served as children’s librarian – she calls that her favorite job – and assistant director in Lewes.

In 2001, Graybeal started a 10-year career with the Delaware Division of Libraries as an administrative librarian to work on professional training and library development.

Graybeal hit the ground running as the new director of county libraries. As administrator she is responsible for day-to-day operations of the county’s three libraries in Greenwood, Milton and Bethany Beach (South Coastal) and the Bookmobile, but that is only one facet of her job. She is also the librarian who interfaces with the county’s 11 independent libraries.

The county library system has 47 employees, including eight staffers who work in the administrative office, with an annual budget of more than $2.2 million.

Libraries keeping pace with the times

Because of the use of technology, some are preaching the death of libraries. Graybeal says quite the opposite is true. “I have no worries about us disappearing,” she said. “We will play a role no matter where technology goes.”

She says people still look for the one-on-one interaction that library staff provides. Sussex libraries have benefited from recent technology grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Gates says libraries should be the technology centers of the community, and he’s right. For up to 70 percent of people, the library is the single spot for free computer access,” she said.

There are 500 computers in the county’s 14 libraries.

Graybeal says when she started working in the 1980s, libraries were a place for intellectual challenge and a place to provide recreational reading, information and educational materials. Even with an explosion of technology offering options to people outside the traditional library setting, the role today remains the same. “It still fits, but with a much broader stroke,” she said.

For example, people seeking state employment can access all job openings and fill out applications at every library in the state. Other companies are following suit. “Libraries are dynamic, and by definition they have to change,” she said.

Most libraries offer computer training classes, and students are taking college classes on computers in county libraries.

People are coming to libraries seeking information on social services. “We have always been a clearing house for information,” Graybeal said.

Even book clubs are operating outside the lines with reading clubs that include blogs and newspapers.

People needing information or students needing help with homework can access the library from their homes under the 24-hour ask-a-librarian program. Thanks to widely successful book series ­– including Harry Potter and Twilight – there is an upswing in young readership. In addition, libraries are providing more reading programs for children less than 2 years of age.

Looking in a crystal ball, Graybeal sees local libraries with electronic readers and people making reservations by smart phones in the near future.

Graybeal said libraries need to reflect the community, and many have become cultural centers with special events and activities. Most libraries now have busy meeting or cultural rooms open to the public. “But we should not be in the meeting-room business,” Graybeal says. “We should be in the connection business.”

By that she means meeting rooms should act as an extension of the library to help develop partnerships and educate the public.

Ensuring additional training for staff, including access to state grants for college degrees, is paramount to keep libraries on the cutting edge, Graybeal said. Libraries must keep a constant eye to the future. Those two facets happen to be Graybeal’s strong suits and why she was hired to work for the Delaware Division of Libraries.

“We have the most dedicated staff here I have ever worked with,” she said. “Their load is so big – they need to be my focus. They are at the front,” she said.

Graybeal has a master’s degree in library science and information resource – as an early distance learner – from the University of Arizona and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Frostburg State. She and her husband, James, who is chief of enforcement for the state’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, live near Milton. The couple has three grown children and two grandchildren.

Sussex County office interfaces with all libraries

Most people would be surprised to discover what services the county library office provides.

• A large collection of professional books

• Courier book service to all libraries

• Assistance with information technology issues

• Ordering and processing for all libraries

• Coordinating training sessions for library staff

• Coordinating monthly meetings of all library directors

• Resources to help with library function

• Connection to the county and state library organizations


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