For the past 24 years, Mattituck-Laurel Library director Kay Zegel has been guided by the philosophy that the institution first and foremost belongs to the community. She and her staff are merely its keepers.
“Libraries have a reputation for holding things close and making people jump through hurdles to get stuff, which seems crazy,” said Ms. Zegel, 63, who is retiring at the end of April and moving to Belfast, Maine, with her husband, Dan Faraone.
The library’s current assistant director, Jeffrey Walden, 48, has been appointed as her replacement.
“It’s our job to make sure people have access to the stuff they already own [as taxpayers] in a fair and equitable way without a lot of barriers,” Ms. Zegel continued. “Everybody should have an equal shot at self-education and self-betterment. That’s what the libraries in this country were built on.”
Perhaps you’re reading a book and need more time to finish it. No problem, Ms. Zegel said. Maybe you’re having trouble writing a résumé. If so, library staff will walk you through the process.
“She tries to help out everyone; I can’t even tell you,” said Pat DeRidder, who moved to Mattituck in 1994 and lives across the street from the library. “When I was laid up in bed with a staph infection, she sent videos for me to watch.”
A Jamesport resident, Ms. Zegel grew up in Center Moriches and earned a master’s degree in library sciences from C.W. Post University in 1976. Her first job in the field was working in the college library’s government documents department. Upon graduation, she worked briefly at North Shore University Hospital’s medical library before becoming head of reference at Islip Public Library. For the next eight years, she was director of Brookhaven Free Library.
In 1991, Ms. Zegel left western Suffolk County to take her current job in Mattituck. She was drawn to the North Fork, she said, because it was immediately clear to her that the community was “very much attached to the library.”
But Ms. Zegel knew she could make the library even more accessible to patrons, so she trained her 20-person staff to be particularly service-oriented.
“I wanted to extend the role of the staff just a little bit more, push that boundary a little bit more so that people walked out of here saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know the library could do that for me,’<\!q>” she explained. This was achieved through role play and “many meetings,” she said.
In 1999, taxpayers approved a $1.4 million project spearheaded by Ms. Zegel to double the size of the library to 13,000 square feet. The move allowed for the creation of a new circulation desk, children’s room, three basement meeting rooms and a gallery. In 2007, a “tween” wing was built off the children’s room.
“The library was very busy and the children’s room was inadequate,” Ms. Zegel said. “There was no meeting space for adults and our collection was growing by leaps and bounds. We made a commitment to the community to make the space available to them.”
It was also important to Ms. Zegel that the library offer a continuous rotation of programs and activities for residents: cooking classes, yoga, art shows, children’s story time. This summer, the library will give the public access to its first 3-D printer.
“That’s ultimately what we’re here for: to benefit the community,” Ms. Zegel said. “The staff makes that happen day in and day out. Part of my job is not only to instill that philosophy but to make sure this is an environment people enjoy going to work in every day. That is a role I take very seriously.”
More than two decades later, Ms. Zegel believes she has achieved what she initially set out to do.
“I feel I’m leaving things in very good shape,” she said. “I feel confident having Jeff [Walden] in charge.”
Mr. Walden, a Greenport native who began working at the library 20 years ago, called Ms. Zegel’s retirement “bittersweet.”
“She’s given me plenty of opportunities to try out my ideas and implement new services and technology,” he said. “She was very much ahead of the curve. I’d say, ‘We need to get a new scanner’ and she’d say OK.”
When she isn’t exploring Belfast, a coastal town she described as “very forward-thinking,” Ms. Zegel will visit the North Fork. But she doesn’t plan to hover around her former workplace when that time comes.
“It’s good for the library and for me to move on, to give Jeff the room,” she said. “The last thing you need is the retired director visiting the library. That’s a drag!”