Susan Preece, director of the Topsham Public Library since 2005, was recently named Outstanding Librarian of the Year by the Maine Library Association. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

TOPSHAM — Susan Preece has been getting a lot of congratulatory hugs lately.

While the Brunswick woman stood Oct. 8 outside the Topsham Public Library, where she has been director since 2005, she was warmly embraced by Teri Schultz for being named 2019’s Outstanding Librarian of the Year by the Maine Library Association.

“I’m sort of overwhelmed by the reaction from everybody,” said Preece, who was quick to point out that “it’s the team” of library staff that make TPL a successful operation.

“She’s such a great head of the library,” Schultz, a former board member, said. “She talks to everybody, she’s so approachable. She has a grasp on what is going on at the library. She does so much for everybody here.”

“And you don’t always take the kudos, Susan,” Schultz said as she turned to her friend.

Jeff Eastman, a librarian at Merrill Memorial Library in Yarmouth who chairs the Maine Library Association’s Communications Committee, said Tuesday that Preece was chosen for the care she gives her staff, and the work she’s done to make her library “a hub of the community, making connections with the businesses around, and other town departments, but especially the patrons and staff.”

Preece, who was honored Sept. 30 at the association’s annual conference at Sunday River Resort in Newry, launched her career in the mid-1970s when she was just 16, at the Mt. Kisco Public Library in New York. The job initially appealed to her as an alternative to serving food or changing diapers as a babysitter, but upon starting work as a page who put away all the books, she discovered a deep love for the field.

“You got to see everything that the library had to offer,” she said. “Even for a small town in Westchester County it was pretty impressive. And you got to be part of the gang, part of the staff. I’ve always loved reading, and the idea that I could take as many books as I wanted to, anytime I wanted to, was so cool.”

Preece worked at Mt. Kisco full time after college and took 10 years off to raise her two sons. When it was time to re-enter the workforce, she took the Myers-Briggs personality test and the Strong Interest Inventory, which indicated she should be working in libraries.

“I was like, ‘I can’t get away from this,'” Preece recalled with a laugh.

Attaining her Master of Library Science in Public Libraries degree, she became head of children’s services at the Chappaqua Library in New York. And then Maine called.

She and her family had vacationed in Harpswell and Bailey Island, and a friend in that area informed her that the Topsham Public Library director was stepping down, just nine months after the brand new Foreside Road building opened.

Being an out-of-stater, Preece figured she didn’t have a chance. But she applied and, visiting the library for her interview, “I thought, ‘this is a great place; I could live here.'”

“I wasn’t nervous; I just talked,” she recalled. “And I guess they liked what they heard.”

After  more than four decades since her first day at Mt. Kisco, Preece has seen libraries expand their focus to keep up with the times. She recalled the punch cards used to check out books, and how they made handling overdue books “a nightmare.” Automated catalogs came online in 1984, right before she began her 10-year hiatus, a major step forward.

When Preece returned, graphical user interfaces greeted her, along with the ability to connect a library’s computers to others around the world. Personal electronic readers were a significant advance after she began in Topsham.

“We’re blessed on this staff to have people who are interested in technology as well as other things,” Preece said.

“That is actually the only way that you could keep up with everything that’s happening,” she added. “… There’s always some new thing that is coming along, but it’s still giving you exactly the same thing as we’ve always wanted from libraries: a place to be safe and to be able to find information, to educate yourself, to entertain yourself.”

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