Courtenay Reece, Destined to Be Library Director

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When you watch children as they’re growing up, there are times when you can instinctively guess what type of career they will have as adults.

Photo Credit: Ahmad Graves-El

Some are born to be track stars because of their love of running, some are groomed to be mathematicians because of their inherent numerical problem-solving skills, and others who spend the majority of their adolescence in libraries may be destined to become library directors.

Courtenay Reece, the newest library director of the Millville Public Library, comfortably lands in the last category.

As a child, Reece, who became the library director on February 1, lived somewhat of a nomadic experience, which she believes affords her the unique opportunity to positively connect with different groups of people. The self-described “Georgia Girl” is the daughter of an Episcopal minister, whose occupation permitted him to travel to many places across the country.

“I lived in Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Connecticut, New York, and more,” said Reece, before planting her roots in Cumberland County.

“Truthfully, that’s what I bring to the position, which is an openness to other people and being able to adapt to adverse situations. I’ve come across so many people over the course of my life that I don’t have any single expectation of them when we meet.”

The first job Reece ever had was as a page in a library. This position initially required her to put books back on the shelves. However, she did such an amazing job that her bosses began to give her more work.

“As time went on and they realized I was willing to take on more responsibilities, I learned how to register people for library cards and worked at the circulation desk," said Reece.

Moving forward, Reece went to Thomas Edison State College to obtain her bachelor’s degree and then earned a master’s in Library Science at Drexel University. She then began to climb up the ladder in the library field.

She knows the demographics of the county as well as the challenges that people in this community face every day.

From 2004-11, Reece drove and operated the bookmobile for the Cumberland County Library (CCL).

“I adored the bookmobile,” said Reece. “It was awesome.”

“Having run the bookmobile was the best training for me in becoming a library director because it was a stand-alone library running around on the road,” she continued, “and it gave me the opportunity to basically be the library director of a little branch library.”

Reece’s duties included, but were not limited to, making up the schedules of when and where the bookmobile was going, writing policies and procedures, and interacting with the administrative staff of the facilities the traveling library visited. Also, as an employee at CCL, she coordinated all of the children’s programming at the library.

Reece then went on to work at the Cumberland County College Library, where she became an instruction librarian. There, she assisted students and local citizens with care, as she taught them the correct tools to use for doing research.

According to Patti Schmid, the head librarian at CCC, Reece feels a great responsibility when it comes to sharing her knowledge with the people who live in Cumberland County.

“She knows the demographics of the county as well as the challenges that people in this community face every day,” said Schmid. “And she has a keen sense of wanting to help those community members succeed.”

After a year and a half, Reece left to become the library director at Bridgeton Public Library. Nearly four years later, she decided to take the same position in Millville, and while there are new challenges, Reece intends to accomplish multiple goals.

One of those goals is to expand the library.

“What the Library Board of Trustees would like to do is put $4.5 million into the library that would renovate the existing public areas that are upstairs,” said Reece. “And add another wing on, so we can have a dedicated teen space and dedicated seminar rooms.”

One of the first obstacles she faced while working there was when the funding of one of the library’s most crucial programs was cut.

The library holds High School Equivalency (HSE) classes, formerly known as GED, for anyone attempting to get their high school diplomas in a non-traditional manner. The program had received $50,000 per year, from grantors, since 2011. In 2017, the funding was cut to $35,000, which is a precipitous 30-percent drop from previous years.

Image courtesy of Millville Public Library Facebook Page.

“I did my best to get some of that money back, but I had no real luck,” recalled Reece. 

However, as one door closed, it was as if an occult hand reached down from above the clouds to open another door.

“Just as I was finding out that we wouldn’t get the money back, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced there would be a literacy grant for libraries. 

 “I just found out that we’re going to get $50,000 to supplement our $35,000 [for a total of $85,000]!” exclaimed Reece. “I’m so excited and our HSE instructor is over the moon.”

“The extra grant that we will receive is going to take us into the 21st century,” said Sonya Saul, the HSE instructor. “The students that come into my classroom are coming to get their high school diploma,” which will lead to better job opportunities, according to Saul.

Reece is also thrilled about a number of other programs that the library is running to help children, teens, and adults during the summertime. There are adult book discussions, teen writer workshops, and Little Reader’s Club events, as well as other summer reading programs scheduled for July and August. 

According to Reece, on Thursday, July 20, Millville Chief of Police Jody Farabella and Fire Chief Mike Lippincott will make special appearances at the library and read stories to children.

Reece has spent nearly her entire life in libraries and still loves being in one. 

“I have a real passion for libraries,” said Reece. “I love being here and I want to do my absolute best to make the Millville Public Library the best library in Cumberland County.”

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