As the library prepares for Saturday’s celebration, retiring director Allison Gray talks about the job she’s loved
On Saturday, the Goleta Valley Library will celebrate its 50th birthday.
The city of Goleta is inviting the community to a celebration from 2-4 p.m. at the library, 500 N. Fairview Ave.
The celebration will also be commemorating the career of long-time library director Allison Gray, who is retiring at the end of March.
Saturday’s celebration will include family-friendly activities, including a scavenger hunt, music by library staff member Nicole Lvoff, birthday toast and special tributes at 3 p.m., signature frame signing photo station, “My Favorite Thing about the Goleta Valley Library” activity, and Goleta Valley Library’s “Celebrating 50 Years” commemorative bookmark.
People are welcome to bring their favorite library memories and to wear the color gray in honor of Allison Gray. Her 36 years of library service included the past 15 years at Goleta .
In her first 10 years, she served as branch supervisor and as library director for the last five years.
“I have been able to nurture the staff and been able to make customer service (the) most important (thing) for us,” Ms. Gray told the News-Press. “It‘s behind everything we do.”
She noted that during her time, the library has been able to greatly expand its programs for children, adults and teenagers.
What’s more, the library staff has built a connection with the community.
“I see patrons, and my staff know their names and have conversations with them,” Ms. Gray said.
“For those who live alone, the library is so important. It might be their only opportunity to interact with someone. My staff is wonderful about engaging people and making them feel good; it is a community hub.
“I feel we are the face of the city,” Ms. Gray said. “I have done my best to make that happen in a good way. I am most proud that people call us the family-friendly library and say we give the best customer service in Santa Barbara County. That was a big change for the library.”
The News-Press asked Ms. Gray what this library means to the community.
“I have been going through every email I got from patrons thanking us or saying something positive. I have about five pages,” the director said. “Most of them say they love this library, it is so important to the community, and the staff is wonderful. Those were the top three things, and they usually said all three things at once.
“They are also incredibly grateful for the sidewalk service we provided during COVID. The community sees the library as an integral part of the community.”
Ms. Gray talked about some of the significant accomplishments of the library in the last 50 years.
“We have more materials and shelving. Computers are a new thing as well. We also have added more staff than previously and more open hours. From photographs, I have seen there used to be a lot of space with tables where people can sit. We have some space for people to sit but not enough, due to the increased capacity for materials. The community is demanding in terms of the materials that they want. We have had to boost the materials we have.”
Ms. Gray has clearly loved being a librarian.
“I love being around books,” she told the News-Press. “My mother was a library director, so I grew up in libraries. I was sort of destined to be a librarian. I love talking with patrons about materials and making recommendations. I have read so many books in my life. I can take patrons to the right section and give them books. I love doing reader advisory.
“I love talking to patrons, and I know so many of them. So many are in my cell phone contacts,” she said. “I have made a lot of relationships at the library.”
Ms. Gray got her start as a children’s librarian in New York and has continued to emphasize family services as the director of the Goleta Valley Library. She enjoys seeing kids reading books or young children pretending to read.
“It makes me so happy to see children and families in the library, it does my heart good,” she said.
Ms. Gray stressed her passion for books and literacy.
“I just think I can’t imagine a life where you don’t read for pleasure,” she said. “My life has been so enriched by reading and listening to books on CD. My mother taught us to read at a very early age. I was a precocious reader. I was reading adult books at age 12.
“I read the ‘Scarlet Letter’ at age 11, although I didn’t fully understand it at the time. I have learned so much from books both fiction and nonfiction. I have been on the Newberry committee and Caldecott committee; these are the biggest awards in children’s literature.
“I can’t imagine not reading,” Ms. Gray said. “You learn and enjoy it so much. I think books and authors that write them are beautiful things, and I couldn’t live without them. In my retirement, I am so excited to read all the books I have been writing down for the last 15 years. I tend to prefer modern authors now because I read most of the classics at an early age.
“My favorite author right now is John Irving, and my favorite genre is suspense and horror. I think it’s a reaction to COVID. Because COVID was so awful I needed to read books where the circumstances for characters were awful and it made me feel better. It gave me comfort in a weird way.”
The News-Press asked Ms. Gray what legacy she hopes to leave behind.
“I hope that patrons continue to see the library as a friendly community center where they feel comfortable and happy as the staff continues to provide great customer service. I am very confident that the staff will continue to do that after I leave. It is a wonderful group of people who work at the library.”
She noted the city of Goleta has supported the Goleta Valley Library for the last five years.
“I just feel so grateful to have been able to target the services to our community and respond to their needs in a way that has made them satisfied. I feel very honored to have been here for 15 years. I will be happy to be there as a patron, but sad to not be doing the work to better our services.”
The News-Press asked Ms. Gray what one piece of advice she would give to her successor, who has not yet been named.
“It would be to remember how important it is to check in with the staff and know how to do most everything the staff does so you can pitch in and so they feel that you are part of the team. It’s important to have a great team that supports each other and you need to be part of that. I work at city hall because there is no room for me at the library. So I go to the library frequently and check in with the staff.”