As a child Aurea Garcia loved public libraries, but she never thought that decades later she would be retiring as the head of one.
After more than 33 years working for the New York Public Library System, and spending the last 20 as the head of the Westchester Square branch, Garcia retired on Friday, August 20, to pursue her dreams and volunteer part-time.
Garcia grew up in Manhattan, and before she could even speak English, she went to the libraries often to wander between the bookshelves and day-dream.
“I was always fascinated by the library,” she said. “When I was young I would walk around and attempt to look at thebooks, and then leave. Then when I learned English that changed it. It just added to the experience.”
After graduating from City College, Garcia took a job on a whim as a community liaison for several library branches in Manhattan. There she visited local agencies with books or films, and worked closely with neighborhood organizations to help them set up programs with their local libraries.
“I figured I’d give it a year or two, but now this is 33 years later,” she said. “Within four years, I decided to go to library school for my degree.”
Garcia graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree, but it was her experience as a community liaison that taught her to deal positively with the community, which looking back is her most proud achievement, she said.
“It was the goal I didn’t realize I had, and if that’s the way they feel about me then I’ve reached my goal,” she said, while displaying a retirement card from patrons and employees that had dozens of messages squeezed together on the pages, wishing her well. “It puts a smile on my face and that’s why I have no regrets about retiring. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
With more than 89,000 visits last year, and 125,443 items circulated, heading Westchester Square Library is a busy job.
However, in between overseeing the library’s programs, managing the 10 staff members, taking care of patrons and handling the daily operations, Garcia got to know the hundreds of members of the community who use the library regularly.
She said since starting in Westchester Square, the old neighborhood has become much more diverse and is now filled with families and more young children. To adapt to the growing population, the library expanded childrens’ programs with weekly story hours crafts programs and special performances. During her time, the adult book sections have also been expanded with computers and lap tops.
The city library system is still looking into who will replace Garcia, both temporarily and for the permanent position. But Garcia is not concerned.
“The staff works very well, and they work just as well without me,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more for my replacement than to work here with these great people.”