Deborah Degrassi, the head children’s librarian at Bellmore Memorial Library, has worked to inspire local children to love the library as much as she does. Now she is retiring 38 years later, leaving the only job she’s ever known.
“I wanted to make the library so comfortable that people keep coming back,” Degrassi said. “I want kids and families to come away with the feeling that the library is a place to have fun — a colorful place.”
She has put her colorful stamp around the children’s room over the years: There’s an extra-large Connect Four game set, a dress-up station, a puppet show theater and frequent entertainment events.
Degrassi, 55, who has lived in Bellmore for most of her life, has been bringing flair to her work since she started at the library as a 17-year-old John F. Kennedy High School student.
“The community knows I’ll always get dressed up for an event,” Degrassi said. “I’ve done over 30 years of events; there’s been a lot of costumes.”
As she says this, she begins describing a St. Patrick’s Day-themed book reading and craft workshop last week for which she planned an all-green ensemble, including a bobbed electric-green wig.
“I try to be as animated as possible, so the kids see the library as a place that is entertaining,” Degrassi said.
When she began working there in 1980, Degrassi did not think that her after-school job would become her career.
“By the time I had graduated from college in 1985, the director of the library at the time asked me what I’d be doing now that I was out of school,” she said. She was encouraged to look into a degree in library science and eventually graduated with a master’s from LIU Post.
“It was my destiny to have that conversation, because I could have gone a different way with my career,” she said.
She said she’s witnessed many changes after nearly four decades at the library.
“I started in the pre-internet days,” she said, “and back then my job was helping students find books for school projects. With the internet, we had to take a different approach. I wanted to make this library a place of community gathering.”
Her co-workers are planning a celebration for Degrassi from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the library that will be open to the public. The event will feature a magician and a montage of her various costumes.
Some of her colleagues say Degrassi has been an integral part of their learning.
“She taught me pretty much everything I know,” said children’s librarian Jessica Premuto. “I hope to take everything that she taught me with me in my career.”
Degrassi isn’t sure what she will be doing now in retirement, but is “hoping to find something a little slower paced, but some place where people are coming together for something happy — maybe event planning.”
Degrassi turned emotional recounting all of the people who helped shape her 38-year story.
“The families, the community, the school board, teachers, and PTA,” she said. “It’s been an honor and a pleasure to be the children’s librarian in this town.”
Now ready to end her final chapter at the library, Degrassi summarized her career in a sentence: “If the families think of the library as a wonderful place, then I did my job.”