PORTLAND — The Peaks Island branch of the Portland Public Library welcomes a new manager this week.

Jerri Blatt, an early literacy specialist, will take over from long-time librarian Priscilla Webster, who retired last month. Webster ran the Peaks library for 29 years and was feted for her years of service during a special send-off Jan. 26.

Blatt, who planned to start her new job on Tuesday, is an island resident who’s worked at the Portland Public Library for more than two decades.

What she’s most looking forward to, she said, is having “more time to connect with my community and bring my enthusiasm for library services to the branch.”

Blatt said that libraries are an integral part of all communities, but on the island the library branch takes on special importance.

“It provides a year-round community meeting place, a cultural and learning center, educational and entertainment resources in all formats and early literacy experiences for children and families.”

Another key aspect of libraries is that they also provide “a space that is inclusive, safe, public and free,” she said.

Blatt said while she has some ideas for new programming, her initial goal will be to “get my sea legs, experience existing programs and hear the ideas from fellow staff members” before making any significant changes.

Sarah Campbell, executive director of the Portland Public Library, said what makes the Peaks branch special is that residents on the island have “a very strong sense of community and they’ve shown such affection for and dedication to this library.”

She said a recent $928,000 renovation at the library, which also includes the Kennedy-Carter Community Center, received “broad financial support from island households. The library is truly a centerpiece of island (life), and we affectionately refer to it as the island’s living room.”

Campbell said the Peaks library also represents “the best of what libraries are – a truly shared public space where neighbors meet to converse and feed their imagination, curiosity, awareness and learning.”

Campbell said what made Webster so great at her job was “recommending just the right books” to everyone who came through the door.

A library patron described Webster, who declined to be interviewed, as someone who meets “each person where they are, coming to the conversation with no personal agenda, making everyone feel comfortable (and) that they belong.”

What Campbell said she’ll miss most about working with Webster is that she “knows her community so well.”

She said over the years Webster had been “particularly good at sharing with me what means the most in her space and for her part of the community. That forthrightness, candor, and creativity are a gift.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Jerri Blatt of Peaks Island is the new director of the island branch of the Portland Public Library.

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