Over a 38-year career in the Children’s Room at the Bellmore Library, Deborah Degrassi has reinvented herself several times, with the advent of new technologies, she said.
At the end of April, Degrassi will reinvent herself one last time — as a retiree.
“I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing, but it’ll definitely be a slower pace,” Degrassi said this week. “A lot of this job, people really don’t know, but when you want to be special and do something unique, it’s a lot of take-home work.”
Degrassi has lived in Bellmore since birth, and started working at the library at age 17, as a page — shelving books and helping patrons find what they need. She continued at the library through college, and after earning her master’s degree in library science, she was hired as the children’s librarian in 1988.
On March 18, Degrassi was honored by parents, teachers, children and coworkers, and surprised with the news that the library’s children’s room will be named in honor of her.
“I can take pictures now with three generations,” Degrassi said of the children she reads aloud to now, their parents and grandparents, whom she also used to see in the children’s room at the beginning of her career.
“It’s a wonderful thing.”
Over the years, Degrassi consistently tried to make story time more of an immersive experience. “I wanted to do stuff that kids will connect with the library being magical,” she said. “I just wanted to make things special. I wanted a little more.”
A walk through the children’s room quickly paints a picture of Degrassi’s dedication. A giant Connect-4 game, a puppet theater on wheels and colorful costumes of all varieties are laid out for kids’ enjoyment. Also, the department has kept up with the times; Xbox and Wii games are available for the borrowing.
“Those things are expensive,” Degrassi said. “We want our taxpayers to be able to rent those things for free.”
According to Degrassi, although technology has had a seismic effect on library operations in general — once the internet hit, the physical work of helping students find the books they need faded away, she said — when it comes to the children’s room, story time is likely around for good.
“I’ve had to reinvent myself a couple of times in my career — that’s OK,” she said. “But I keep coming back to old-fashioned story time, with props and costumes. The kids remember it, and they never forget it — that connection to a book or a character.”
“For me, if they can get that excited about stories, and if I bring it across as fun, I did my job,” Degrassi added.
As her time at the library winds down, she said that programming would continue, but at a slower pace. Jessica Premuto, who has worked under Degrassi for six years, is likely to succeed her as children’s librarian.
And, Degrassi said, she couldn’t be more confident in the department’s future.
“I’ve been training her for years already,” she said. “There’s no anxiety. I feel very good. This is the right thing for me, and I’m so confident in the staff’s abilities.”
Premuto said on Monday that everything she knows about working in the children’s room of a library, she learned from Degrasis.
“I’m so fortunate to have had the privilege of working with Debbie for the last six years now,” Premuto said. “She taught me so much about giving great programs to the children and she’s taught me so much about how to be a leader in the community . . . I just feel really fortunate to have learned from her.”