By Anne Ruisi
In its 81 years, the Homewood Public Library has had just seven directors, with Judith Wright as its newest leader.
“It’s an all-encompassing position. There are a lot of things you don’t learn about when you’re in library school,” Wright said, such as dealing with bills, and the painting and carpeting that are components of the library’s upcoming renovation.
Set in a tranquil setting on Oxmoor Road across the street from Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church and surrounded by Edgewood’s distinctive residential homes, the library is the busiest library in Alabama that serves a community of 25,000 to 50,000 people, Wright said.
“We host 100-plus events a month. That includes story time, book clubs, computer classes,” the Montgomery native said.
Those activities are just a sample of the traditional events libraries offer. Homewood’s fall events calendar is laid out in a 16-page calendar book featuring events in sections for children, teens and adults, technology classes, movie showings and library services for Spanish speakers.
Among the activities are special events such as Trick or Treat for children on Halloween, sushi classes and a Teen CinePhone Film Contest in September, and a pet loss support group and Dungeons and Dragons workshops for adults.
In a special event Aug. 16, the library was turned into the scene of the crime for a Roaring Twenties murder mystery game as part of an F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald theme for August. The adults-only evening featured guests dressed in 1920s gear sipping mocktails as they solved the “murder.” Wright said she went out and bought a flapper-style dress for the night.
“We like to think of ourselves as a cultural and a community center. We think about what our community wants and needs,” Wright said.
Librarian Wasn’t the First Plan
When she was young, Wright said, she didn’t know she would be a librarian. As a student she volunteered in the school library, but by the time she went off to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she thought her career path would lead to becoming a museum curator.
But there weren’t a lot of jobs in the field when she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art history from UAB. Her mother suggested she go to library school, so she did and earned her master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of Alabama.
She worked part-time at the Homewood library in 2010 and then worked part-time at the Hoover Library, then was back at Homewood to work as a senior clerk in the circulation department in November 2011. She moved to the Albert L. Scott Library in Alabaster for a few years and returned to Homewood in late 2014 as the librarian for the Teen Department. It was a position she loved.
“It was one of the most rewarding experiences,” Wright said. “I love teenagers. We try to make them lifelong readers,” Wright said.
As teen librarian, she organized an advisory group consisting of youth from the sixth to 12th grades and handled more than 25 monthly teen events. At the same time, she acted as assistant department head for the Adult Services Department.
In October 2019, she was named the library’s assistant director, a position she held until she was named interim library director earlier this year when longtime library Director Deborah J. Fout announced she was retiring May 1. Wright was then named director.
As library director, she’s responsible for 51 full- and part-time employees, including housekeeping staff. She also oversees the library’s operations and budget of $3 million, Wright said.
“The city of Homewood is extremely generous. The city and the community are very supportive – they really value libraries,” she said.
The Friends of the Library and the Homewood Library Foundation also are very supportive, she said. Volunteers with the friends group run the library’s used bookstore and use funds generated by book sales for projects. The foundation’s annual Block Party also raises funds for the library.
Her accomplishments since becoming a librarian are many.
She developed the state’s first telescope lending program – Homewood has nine that can be borrowed – and an online application and hiring system for the Homewood library. She also founded the state’s first Girls Who Code chapter and is involved in several professional associations. This year, she won the Outstanding Youth Services Award from the Alabama Library Association.
In 2017, Wright became Alabama’s only certified librarian who is part of NASA’s Lunar and Meteorite Sample Lending program. That means she can borrow lunar and meteorite samples from NASA for display in the library.
The samples have to be under lock and key in a safe when they aren’t displayed, and when they are on show, Wright must be with them at all times, along with an armed guard, she said.
Some space objects were displayed at the library in 2017, and Wright said she hopes to hold another exhibit in 2023.
Renovation Starting Soon
A major project Wright started to oversee this month is the first stage of a $250,000 renovation, the first since the library was renovated in 1996, Wright said. Scheduled improvements included removing wallpaper and painting.
Starting on Sept. 19, the adult and teen departments will undergo renovation, with new carpet and updated paint among the improvements. This phase will last five or six weeks.
The library’s goal is to remain open during the renovation, which will be done in small stages, Wright said.
As the upcoming fall signals the march to a new year, the library will continue its partnership with NASA in 2023 and will offer passport services. Wright said her goals will include continuing to reach out to the community to see what programs and services people want, “especially those who haven’t been to the library yet.”
These include the community’s Latino population, and the library has started working with the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama to learn how to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community, Wright said.
“Our doors are open to everyone,” she said.