A few years back, Abby Cooley’s parents found a box filled with her long-ago schoolwork. One assignment foreshadowed her career.
The paper had a sentence that began “I want to be …” and a place to fill in the blank. As a schoolgirl, Cooley had drawn a librarian.
“My 5-year-old self knew,” said Cooley, who in November became director of the Everett Public Library.
Herald readers learned a bit about the 37-year-old Cooley in October when her predecessor, Eileen Simmons, retired after a decade as the library’s leader.
Raised in the suburban Chicago area, Cooley had most recently managed branches of the Baltimore County Public Library. She studied information and library science at Indiana University Bloomington, where Simmons also earned a master’s degree in library science.
The Northwest isn’t new to Cooley’s family. In the 1960s, her parents lived at Fort Lawton, a U.S. Army post in Seattle’s Magnolia area that later became Discovery Park. She has friends in the Seattle area.
She moved to Everett in late October. “The weather is definitely an adjustment,” said Cooley, but she doesn’t miss the harsh winters of Chicago or the Northeast. She looks forward to more time outside. Already, she has taken a snowshoeing trip organized by Everett’s parks department and hiked to Oyster Dome, off Chuckanut Drive near Burlington.
Her love of libraries is a given.
“I went to libraries a lot as a kid, and did summer reading,” Cooley said. One childhood memory, from a summer library program, was getting to dissect an owl pellet — the bones, teeth and other remains of prey that an owl regurgitated. “That stuck with me,” she said Thursday.
Cooley prefers real books over e-books, but reads on a tablet when traveling. Her favorite books are fiction. They include the Theodore Dreiser classic “Sister Carrie” and “The Master and Margarita,” an acclaimed novel by Mikhail Bulgakov written during the Stalin regime. Its plot has the devil visiting the anti-religious Soviet Union.
She adores reading, but there’s little time for it on the job. “A lot of time is spent in meetings,” said Cooley, who oversees 64 employees, about 39 of them full-time library workers. She is part of the library’s weekend rotation and at times works the reference desk.
The Herald reported Wednesday that long-planned renovations at the Everett Public Library’s Evergreen Branch have been delayed as the city reviews costs. Cooley said the pause is to assure due diligence is done regarding costs, and that the city remains supportive of the library expansion in south Everett.
Cooley has been in touch with some of Everett’s neighborhood associations, and hopes to visit all of those groups.
As part of the library’s Everett Reads program, “Longmire” series author Craig Johnson gave a talk last month at the Everett Performing Arts Center. And as part of its Reading Challenge 2018, the library suggests certain genres each month and asks readers to post selfies with books they choose, using #EVERETTREADS on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Photos are randomly chosen each month, and winners get $25 Amazon gift cards provided by Friends of the Everett Public Library.
“For March read a biography or memoir, and for April it’s poetry,” Cooley said.
The new director describes the library’s Northwest History Room as “a gem.” With a passion for history, she worked with rare books and special collections while in library school. In her office is a vintage photo of the Everett library’s first director, Alice McFarland Duryee, who filled the role from 1898 to 1900.
Today, especially in urban areas, libraries face the challenge of homeless people sometimes using them for shelter.
“It’s a delicate balance. We’re one of the few remaining instruments of democracy,” Cooley said. She champions public access to all that libraries offer — books and other intellectual pursuits, internet availability, and community meeting spaces.
“We are a gracious space for everybody,” Cooley said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.
Past library directors
Head librarians and directors of the Everett Public Library:
Alice McFarland (later Alice Duryee), April 1898-April 1900
Gretchen Hathaway, April 1900-May 1907
Jessie Judd (interim librarian), May 1907
Adelaide Wharton, June 1907-February 1914
Mary Frank, February 1914-July 1916
Elizabeth Topping, July 1916-June 1919.
Mabel Ashley, June 1919-April 1946
Fred Stephen, April 1946-September 1949
Phil Blodgett, October 1949-April 1973
Gary Strong, April 1973-October 1976
Victoire Grassl (interim director), November 1976-January 1977
Mark Nesse, February 1977-February 2007
Eileen Simmons, March 2007-October 2017
Abigail “Abby” Cooley, November 2017-present