Turning the page

By on February 27, 2019

After 15 years as the director of the Lititz Public Library, Susan Tennant is retiring in March, and will soon close this “chapter” of her life.

Born in Sayre, she was just 3 years old when her father took a job at a high school in nearby York County. She would attend Millersville University to major in art, hoping to find a career in an art museum.

While in college, she enrolled in a summer course in museology at Penn State Harrisburg. One of her assignments led her to the York Historical Society’s library. Tennant enjoyed researching the assignment so much (as well as appreciated and admitted the assistance provided by the society’s librarian) that she decided to pursue a master’s degree in library science at Drexel University.
Before coming to Lititz, Tennant worked at a public library in York. However, she sought change and found it in 2004 when opportunity knocked.

“I saw the job announcement on a statewide library listserv and decided to investigate,” she said. She and her mother then paid a visit to the library. As they turned off Owl Hill Road and came down Kissel Hill Road, Tennant felt a sign from inside.

“Towards the library, my heart actually jumped in my chest,” she recalled. “We parked and spent some time in the library. I had a feeling I’d just found the right job for me.”
But the position wouldn’t come without its challenges.

“Our library was in the enviable position of being so busy the staff just didn’t know which way to turn,” she said.

During her first five years at the library, ample state funding allowed the bustling facility to meet the challenges that came with its growth. But eventually recession, and the subsequent slash in the state’s financial support, took its tool. For a decade, the board of trustees struggled to replace the $163,000 that was cut annually from their state aid allocation. Luckily, fundraising in the private sector has slowly increased as annual contributions have grown by more than 60 percent since 2009. However, that increase only represents about one-third of the annual loss experienced in state funding.

“Over the years, our library has faced wonderful possibilities and challenging setbacks,” Tennant said. “I’m proud I could offer experience, confidence and vision that led us forward during these years.”

Susan Tennant

It would be this vision that would help the location continue to evolve and remain relevant in an ever-changing, digital world.

“The shift began before I came to Lititz, but certainly the past fifteen years has made technology second nature in the provision of public library service and the way we communicate about what’s happening at the library,” she said. “It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s been my experience that people who are drawn to a career in librarianship love change, embrace evolution and can’t wait to try something new.”

She added, “Personally, when I use a lovely and efficient database or search for a movie to watch on a streaming service that has a sublime search feature, I know there’s a librarian somewhere behind the scenes.”

She also admits that the library has been more than just a place to foster learning — it’s been an important evolution for the town itself, and grown to be a safe and familiar gathering place within the community.

“People who use the library build relationships with staff members and with each other &tstr; our library is a place to talk about books or what’s happening around town or even find a sympathetic ear.”

So what does Tennant have planned next?

“My husband and I are moving to Florida in the spring,” she said. “I don’t have any specific plans, but I hope to learn to play mahjong, get more exercise, try new recipes, get back into art in some way, and perhaps do some historical research on an undetermined subject.”

Looking back, Tennant is proud of her time at the Lititz Public Library.

“There’s something gratifying about knowing I played a part in providing opportunities for people of all ages to reach their full potential thanks to the resources and programs provided by public libraries,” she said.

“I’m proud to have played a role in supporting our democracy by providing everyone free access to information, new ideas and the tools to make informed decisions.”

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423. 

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