After 44 years of serving the Port community at the Port Washington Public Library (PWPL), with 26 of those years as library director, Nancy Curtin has decided it is time to retire and begin the next phase of her life. Curtin, the fourth director of the 126 year-old library, began her career as a librarian trainee and climbed the ranks over the years to director, where she innovated new services, realized large-scale construction projects and redefined the library experience for Port residents with the changing times.
“My hope is that I want everybody to feel that [PWPL] is theirs,” Curtin said of how she hopes to have impacted the community. “I call it the community’s living room. I want everyone to feel that they have equal access and feel welcome here and succeed here. That would really be my hope.”
Curtin attended Marist College where her interests and desire to work with children led her to pursue her Masters of Library Science with a working scholarship from the Palmer Graduate Library School at C.W. Post. However, Curtin gave up her scholarship when she was offered the librarian trainee position at PWPL for the children’s library in 1974.
“I had never been to Port Washington before and I was blown away by the size of this building,” said Curtin. “I was used to a local storefront in Massapequa. I was like, ‘wow could this really be the library?’ It was a little intimidating. I was only 22. It was really breathtaking.”
After working in children’s services for 14 years, Curtin was named assistant to then director Edward DeSciora in 1988 and soon became director herself in 1994.
Curtin explained that when she started as a librarian, the world was completely different; there was no Internet or DVDs. Over the years she took steps to bring technology and innovation to both the construction and experience of the library.
“I always wanted to be as inclusive as possible, so one of the first things I did when I was made director was to establish a long-range planning committee with the community,” said Curtin. “We worked for 18 months to really not only gather the data and thoughts of the community in terms of the direction we should take, but also to do surveys and phone calls and one-on-ones and really a much more extensive project than what might normally occur and that was really so helpful for me because once we all decided on a path, it was a complete buy in because it really had come form the community.”
Soon after, Curtin oversaw a four-year construction project that included the creation of new space for computers, quiet study, local history, a teen space and a terrace off the reading room. As needs in the community arose, the library brought in new programs like the English as a second language program, which has more than 250 students representing 35 different languages, and job seekers, which was added shortly after the economic collapse in 2008. Under Curtin’s leadership, the library has taken steps toward being a green building, having installed solar roofs. Curtin also recently oversaw the children’s library renovation.
“First of all, it’s where I started and it’s my love so when I was thinking about our future plans and we wanted to engage our foundation in a larger capital campaign, I said that’s really the room,” said Curtin. “It’s the most important room in the building as far as I’m concerned. So much research has been done now about the way children learn and relate, and it was a room that we wanted to transform to meet those needs.”
Curtin shared some of her stand-out memories over the years including how she and her staff transformed the building over the years together, when the library was named a five-star library and seeing children’s eyes light up while reading to them.
“Before there was video, kids only saw movies when they went to a movie or they would only show certain movies once a year, explained Curtin, recalling a memory. “So we would show films like actual projection reel films at that point and we showed Pinocchio and I remember standing there, watching the kids faces and thinking, ‘what is better than this?’ It was just so wonderful to see them react and have them be mystified by what they were experiencing.”
Other memories included when the Library of Congress picked up a story about the local sand pits and sand mines from the library for their centennial as well as a moment before the library was bout to close one night when a father came in asking for help to teach his daughter baton twirling.
“Port Washington is an amazing town,” said Curtin, who explained many of her achievements and much of her impact on the library is also due to the help of the community. “It’s filled with brilliant people, people who value education, so I was never swimming against the tide here,” said Curtin. “This is a very supportive place for an educational and cultural institution. That human need that people still have no matter how tied to our phones that people love to come in here and be greeted by a staff member or sit in a discussion group and be able to talk something through, I think that’s still so critical to people and being that center for idea exchange is critical for libraries.”
Curtin explained that her retirement is bittersweet as she is ready to begin the next chapter of her life, gaining more time to do other things she loves, but is sad to leave the institution she has been involved in for many years, stating she will be a frequent visitor.
Curtin will help with the transition to her successor Port native and current assistant director Keith Klang as he takes on his new role.
A signing book for patrons to express their good wishes to Curtin will be available in the library’s lobby beginning June 15. A community reception honoring Curtin will be held June 19 from 4 to 6 p.m. in PWPL’s Karen and Ed Adler Art Gallery with a program beginning at 4:45 p.m.