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More time for the books

Stewart’s legacy with library system celebrated

Clayton County Library System Director Carol Stewart listens as state Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) praises her leadership during Stewart's retirement party Wednesday. The director's last day on the job is today.

Clayton County Library System Director Carol Stewart listens as state Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) praises her leadership during Stewart's retirement party Wednesday. The director's last day on the job is today.

— As a library system director, you’d think Carol Stewart has plenty of opportunities to read a book, but that hasn’t quite been the case.

Strangely enough, Stewart, 63, said that in the more than three decades she has spent leading Clayton County’s library system, she just hasn’t gotten enough time to spend with books.

“I have not been able to read as much as I would like,” Stewart told a group of friends at the Headquarters Library Branch Wednesday. “Before I got this job, I used to read all of the time but I just haven’t had the time.”

Reading is one of the activities Stewart plans to spend her time doing after she retires Friday. It will mark the end of a 33-year career leading Clayton County libraries, and friends and county officials feted her at a retired party two days early.

In 1980, Stewart was brought in to oversee Clayton County libraries which were part of the Griffin Regional Library System at the time. She led the county’s split to form its own library system a year later and is the only person to serve as its library director.

photo

Curt Yeomans

Clayton County Library System Director Carol Stewart chats with former county Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell at her retirement party Wednesday. Stewart will officially retire Friday.

“Clayton County has a lot of really great things going for it, but one of the most outstanding things we have in Clayton County is our library system under Carol’s direction,” said Library Board Chairwoman Judy Serritella.

Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said he would keep Stewart in charge of the library system if he could. He also told Interim Library Director Yvonne Carmichael that she had “big shoes to fill” as she follows in Stewart’s footsteps.

“Carol Stewart, you’ve been here a long, long, long, long time and if I had my way, you’d still be here a long, long, longer time because the services you have rendered to Clayton County are invaluable,” Turner said. “This library system would not be what it is without you.”

Longtime acquaintances praised Stewart not only for creating the library and its “Friends of the Library System” support group, but also for overseeing the system’s expansion.

When she came to the county, there were only four libraries. They were located in Jonesboro, Riverdale, Morrow and Forest Park. She expanded the system to include the headquarters branch and a Lovejoy branch. She also oversaw the construction of new facilities for the Riverdale, Morrow and Forest Park branches.

“We have six libraries in Clayton County and Carol built five of them,” said Assistant Library Director for Information Technology Ted Bazemore.

Turner said the number of library cards issued by the system has increased by 50 percent in the last 10 years. Former Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell praised Stewart for implementing an online homework assistance program for Clayton County children.

Janice Arcuria, the Assistant Library Director for Youth Services, said the system was one of the first in Georgia to adopt the PINES online book check out system, which lets library patrons order books for check out from any library in the state.

“The modernization of the library system will be one of her legacies,” Arcuria said.

State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) presented a Senate proclamation to Stewart in honor of the library director’s years of service. The proclamation was issued at the request of Seay and Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro).

“Because we wanted to make sure everybody in the county knew how much you were going to be missed, I wanted to at least come by and share with you what we thought of you in the Senate,” Seay told Stewart.

Carmichael said Stewart will not be an easy act to follow because she founded the system and helped usher it into the technology age with computers and online systems.

“She’s left a wonderful foundation for this library system and we definitely want to build on that and I think we will be able to do that,” Carmichael said.

When Stewart reached her 30 years with the library system milestone in 2010, she said she no plans to retire. However, at her retirement party, she explained she felt the time was right to move on to other projects.

“I felt like it was time for me to let go,” Stewart said. “It’s been so rewarding and I’ve been really fortunate to have such a great career.”

Stewart said she will be involved with the Friends of the Library group but does not plan to volunteer at the county library. She also plans on working with other retired Clayton County librarians to develop a new early childhood reading program. It will entail pediatricians prescribing books to mothers to read to their young children.

“It is really in the early stages,” Stewart said. “It’s really just in the talking stages. It is going to be Clayton County-specific.”

Stewart’s plans weren’t too surprising to Arcuria, though.

“Librarians never really retire, they just move on to other projects to take on,” she said.