When Kristin Smith-Gary took over the Tunkhannock Public Library, her first priority was to make sure it served as a community center.
“Building relationships is the most important thing to me, and the library has been so well supported by the community,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure that I continued that tradition and embedded it even further into the community.”
Now after 11 and a half years of leading “the place for everyone,” Smith-Gary has decided to retire from her position as executive director.
Before taking on the role in 2009, she directed the Towanda Public Library, then the Wyalusing Public Library, “and kept on going to Tunkhannock.”
Smith-Gary, a native of Long Island, N.Y., earned her master’s degree in library science from the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University and moved to Pennsylvania when she married a farmer.
Looking ahead after the COVID-19 pandemic, she saw that the library would need to go in a different direction than she could take it with somebody who is more tech-savvy and has a fresh vision.
“I had a traditional library experience. That’s what I was familiar with and I felt that somebody else could do a better job going forward,” she said.
The pandemic also showed Smith-Gary that seeing her grandson wouldn’t be possible since she frequently comes into contact with the public at the library, and she looks forward to visiting him after self-quarantining for two weeks.
Over the years, Smith-Gary said she’s been fortunate to have “an outstanding staff and a very involved, supportive board,” as well as “a strong, dedicated volunteer team” behind her, who all continuously make the library better through collaborative efforts.
These people have shown her “teamwork as its best.”
“They love the library and they want to make it the best it can be,” she said.
Multiple minds coming together have generated ideas such as the Library of Things, which lends out items like musical instruments and baking pans to patrons.
Other areas like children’s programming and Cooper’s Corner Book Store have been able to expand thanks to the dedication of the TPL team, she said.
At home, Smith-Gary enjoys moving furniture around, so she carried this hobby into the library to make it “as homelike as possible.” One way of accomplishing this was setting up a cafe area right at the entrance.
“We wanted people to walk in the doors and feel welcome and embraced,” she said. “Pre-pandemic, we were a bustling place and I loved it that way, and that was my goal to get it that way.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be one of her most significant challenges as executive director, second to fundraising when a large portion of the library’s budget relies on it.
The library has been offering curbside pickup since June 8, but Smith-Gary understands that patrons wish they could come in to browse the shelves and check out new arrivals.
It’s been a priority to appeal to the times with e-books, audio books and other modern offerings, but Smith-Gary has made sure to keep the original idea of the library going, too.
“There is a large group of people who find a lot of comfort in picking up a book and being able to flip through the pages,” she said. “Little kids, middle school kids, teens, adults, there is a large group of people who really enjoy holding a book in their hands.”
The Tunkhannock Library Board of Trustees expressed their gratitude to Smith-Gary during her final board meeting last week on Zoom, according to board president Ann Way.
Once it’s safe and appropriate to gather, the trustees hope to celebrate her retirement in person.
“Her dedication to the patrons of the library is second to none. She always wanted to make sure that they were treated with respect and kindness,” Way said. “I think her dedication to the staff is also noteworthy and the hours and hours that she put into the job really can’t be counted.”
The library has hired a consultant to lead the search for a new director and take an overall look at staffing since a handful of employees have recently left.
Colleen Noll, the library’s development coordinator, will serve as interim manager until the board hires a new director.
“Colleen is new on staff, but has fit right in and works really well with everybody,” Smith-Gary said. “I think she will do a wonderful job and she has the full support of the staff that are here already.”
While Smith-Gary is finishing out her final days as director, it isn’t the end of her time serving the community through the Tunkhannock Public Library.
“I want to stay involved with this wonderful library,” she said. “It has super support and really admirable people are involved with it.”