MeMe Smith has worn several hats over the years, but she’s stuck with Schuyler Public Library director the longest.
Born in South Dakota, her family bounced from Seattle to Louisiana to New Jersey and places in between.
By the time she and her native Nebraskan husband moved to Columbus with their three children, she’d also worked in several positions, particularly in retail. She went to the Nebraska Department of Labor Workforce Development office and learned Schuyler Public Library was hiring.
“As a child, I always said that's what I was going to do was work in a library,” Smith said. “Life kind of took me in a variety of different places before coming here, but I have always loved libraries.”
Sixteen years after landing at the local library, Smith announced she's retiring at the end of September.
“I loved being here,” she said. “I loved working for the people here in Schuyler. A lot of people made me very welcome. And there were enough challenges to keep the job interesting for the whole time I've been here.”
One of those challenges is staying current with rapid changes in technology and determining a library's role in the digital age.
“Needless to say it’s not just books anymore and it's not just physical books,” Smith said. “We have moved to include digital materials.”
The library used to be filled with people using the facility's computers to access the internet, but that's changed, too.
“Now many people come in with their own devices and use our Wi-Fi,” she said.
Another challenge is helping the library adapt to Schuyler’s changing demographics.
“When I came here there was nobody working in the library that spoke any Spanish and I do speak a little,” Smith said. “So that helped develop some rapport with people in the community.”
She also helped expand the library’s collection to accommodate Spanish speakers.
“I worked at developing our Spanish-language materials collections in here,” she said. “And for quite a while there were people from other libraries or other communities that wanted library cards to our library, even though they were outside the community, so they could access our Spanish-language collection.”
Smith focused on making the library an educational resource for the entire community through children's programs and English as a second language and GED classes.
“Literacy is a very important role of ours,” she said.
The library has become a resource for anyone undergoing a major life change, from finding a new job to working through the naturalization process.
“We help patrons with so many things to make their lives better,” Smith said.
Smith has given back to the profession she loves by accepting interns and writing book reviews for Wayne State College.
She's retiring with mixed emotions, but in some ways the decision seems out of her hands. The city of Columbus is purchasing her home for the 12th Avenue viaduct project and her husband already accepted an early retirement incentive.
“Sometimes life leads you in certain directions, whether or not you had planned it to be a certain way or not,” she said. “There were just things that fell into place that made this the time to do that.”
The timing means Smith will not get to enjoy the new Schuyler Public Library building once it’s complete.
“And that's a sad thing for me, but I have to say that I will be pleased for whoever my successor is that they will have some input as to what is going into that new building,” she said.
Schuyler City Council has confirmed the appointment of Jenny White as the new library director.
Smith’s last day will be Sept. 29. After that, she and her husband will move to Omaha to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
“I will miss working with the people here in Schuyler,” she said. “As much as I've enjoyed the challenges here, I'm looking forward to the next stage life brings.”