A tremendous leader. A steady hand at the tiller. A librarian’s librarian.
Ask about Eileen Simmons, the Everett Public Library director retiring this week, and those are descriptions you’ll hear from Rich White. As president of the Everett library’s board of trustees, White knows the issues Simmons faced during her decade-long tenure as director.
Her last day on the job will be Tuesday. The library will welcome its new director, Abigail “Abby” Cooley, on Wednesday. Cooley, 37, most recently managed branches of the Baltimore County Public Library.
“The library is one of those gems in our community, and people feel very passionate about it. Eileen has been that leader people look to,” White said. “Eileen has been a tremendous leader.”
At the library last week, Simmons talked about her challenges, successes and plans for the future.
“I’m going to clean out closets and I’m going to read — everybody thinks librarians get to read a lot,” said Simmons, 67, who lives in Everett with her husband, Roger Berger. He teaches English literature and writing at Everett Community College.
Simmons became Everett library director March 1, 2007, following Mark Nesse’s nearly 30 years in that position. Before taking the top job, Simmons had spent nine years as the library’s assistant director.
“When I became director it was as if everything might be possible in Everett. The economy was great,” Simmons said. By the end of 2007, the Great Recession was sinking any sky’s-the-limit hopes. “Everything was on hold for years,” she said.
Yet Simmons said her early goals have largely been accomplished.
“We figured out how to do it,” she said. Creation of a teen area at the downtown library, self-checkout stations and more technology for library users, popular Everett Reads! programs, restoration of the library’s 1934 murals, and the coming expansion of the Evergreen Branch are among initiatives that happened under Simmons’ leadership.
There were losses, too, notably the end of the Everett library’s bookmobile service in 2014 in response to city budget cuts. “It was sad, but choices have to be made to maintain the most service,” Simmons said.
“The library, like the city, has gone through some tumultuous times dealing with the Recession. Eileen has been both a steady hand at the tiller for the library, and an inspirational leader for her staff,” White said. “Eileen believes in the mantra that libraries should be places for all people, from all walks of life.
“In my opinion, she’s a librarian’s librarian,” said White, whose father was a school librarian in Seattle. “Eileen has more than amply left her stamp on the library.”
At a farewell party hosted by Friends of the Everett Public Library on Thursday night, Simmons was given a painting of the library by artist Elizabeth Person, whose “Sketchy Everett” series depicts scenes of the city.
Homelessness has been a chronic issue at the main library downtown. When Simmons spoke to The Herald about that issue earlier this year, she said, “My staff are trained to work in a library, but they’re not social workers, they are not EMTs, they are not police.”
She said the city since then has helped by providing police overtime hours and an additional security guard during peak hours. With the parking garage and areas outside, as well as the three-floor library, “this is a big property,” Simmons said. Street-level issues of homelessness and addiction are “bigger than the library,” she added.
Simmons is pleased with the library’s continuing focus on local history. Some users of the library’s Northwest History Room worried when its longtime historian, David Dilgard, retired in the spring, she said. Everett library history specialists Lisa Labovitch and Mindy Van Wingen “are showing people” that the area’s past remains a priority, Simmons said. “They are awesome, I can’t say enough about them.”
Cooley was chosen from among four finalists, one of them in-house, Simmons said. The library’s five-member board of trustees made the selection after conducting interviews and considering feedback from staff, library leadership, the City Council and community.
“Right now my goal is to get to know the community, and learn about how the library can best be part of the community,” said Cooley, who will live in Everett. The salary for her new position, according to city spokeswoman Sarah Reyes, is $10,636 per month, which equates to more than $127,000 annually.
Cooley, who has family in the Seattle area, was manager at Baltimore County Public Library’s Reisterstown and Hereford branches. Previously, she worked at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. In graduate school, Cooley said she focused on rare books. She worked in the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington, known for its rare book collection.
“I have a very strong interest in local history,” Cooley said.
Simmons, who will now have time to read, listed a few favorite books: “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra, a novel set in Chechnya; “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” a 2017 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction by Matthew Desmond; and “Life After Life,” a novel by Kate Atkinson.
Her literary tastes aren’t all highbrow. “I’m a terrible mystery reader,” Simmons admitted. “A glass of wine, a good mystery, I’m set.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.
The public and city of Everett staff are invited to celebrate the retirement of Everett Public Library Director Eileen Simmons 4-6 p.m. Monday in the library’s downstairs auditorium. Cake and other refreshments will be served. The library is at 2702 Hoyt Ave., Everett.
Listen to Simmons’ farewell podcast, “The Next Chapter,” at www.epls.org/174/Podcasts