After 15 years at the helm, Heights Libraries’ Coventry Branch Manager Patricia Gray will retire on March 1.
Known for her compassion, perceptiveness, and creativity, Gray nurtured the staff, programs, and collections at the branch, and helped it grow into a neighborhood gathering place that reflects the eclectic needs and interests of the community it serves.
“Pat became synonymous with the Coventry branch and its warm, intelligent programs and services,” said Heights Libraries Director Nancy Levin. “Her retirement is bittersweet for all of us–we are thrilled for her to be taking this next step in her journey, but we will miss her so much.”
Among Gray’s many accomplishments during her tenure were her development of a local author collection and related author programs, oversight of a remodel that included a new children’s early literacy play area, nurturing the growth of services for the Deaf and hard of hearing, and the establishment of the branch as a place to explore wellness through programs like meditation and tai chi.
The local author programs thrived in part due to Gray’s ability to connect with others, and build partnerships like the one she shared with Suzanne DeGaetano of Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry.
“I have loved working with Pat, talking books and collaborating for the [local author] speaker series, the Pekar Park Comic Book Festival, and other Coventry Village events,” said DeGaetano. “Some of the highlights of my work life have been our semi-annual discussions of authors and writers when we scheduled our author events. Pat’s warmth, kindness, and deep love of books and reading has enriched our community and my own life.”
That feeling was echoed by Mallory Phillips, executive director of the Coventry Village Special Improvement District. “In my early days working in Coventry, she was a guiding light and haven for me; a place to land and find connection, support, and encouragement,” said Phillips. “She has a deep care for the neighborhood and invests herself completely in the people around her. We’ve worked together on a variety of community events and she’s been a huge supporter of the Coventry Village Merchants.”
Gray also had a keen sense for what residents and fans of the neighborhood would respond to. With businesses like the alternative-music club the Grog Shop, independent record store Record Revolution, vegan and vegetarian friendly Tommy’s Restaurant, and independent coffee shops like the Phoenix, Coventry Village has a reputation as a haven for creativity and alternative ways of thinking. Under Gray’s leadership, the Coventry branch has developed long-standing programs like the weekly ukulele jam, the Step Out of Time alternative health series, and free concerts with the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Fans of the Coventry branch are no doubt wondering what will happen now that Gray is leaving, but they can rest assured the branch will be in good hands. Gray’s replacement is Maggie Kinney, a long-time Coventry branch employee.
Kinney began her Heights Libraries career 15 years ago when Gray hired her as a page. Since then, Kinney has held several positions at the Library, including several years as a youth services librarian at the Coventry branch and most recently as the Library’s special projects manager, overseeing programs like the Mobile Pantry, writing grant applications to support programming, and coordinating the Library’s participation in county-wide projects such as One Community Reads.
“Pat has been a wonderful mentor and guiding force in my career from the very beginning,” said Kinney. “I couldn’t be more excited and to have the opportunity to build on her achievements.”
A Q&A with Pat Gray
Pat Gray has always been a fan of a good story, so here, she tells her own.
Q: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Denver, Colorado when it was a beautiful, small town tucked against the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. Needless to say, that was long ago.
Q: Where did you go to school, and what did you study?
I did my undergraduate work at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the days of hippies, protests of the Vietnam War, and marches for Civil Rights. I once burned draft cards on the quad with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I was an English major, of course. I left Colorado and started a PhD in English at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. I finished a Master’s in English and “all but dissertation” on my PhD when my then-husband and I decided to move to Durham, North Carolina, where he completed a law degree at Duke and I ran a field study program for undergraduates. I discovered college basketball there—what fun. And left my half-written dissertation on Anthony Trollope unfinished.
Q: What did you do before working at Heights Libraries Coventry branch?
When my husband graduated from law school, we moved to Cleveland Heights. I spent several years being a PTA mother. Eventually, I half-accidentally got a job at the Orange Library with the County Library system, having no idea what the job would be. I knew I had found my true career instantly, literally on the first day. Having loved libraries throughout my life, I don’t know why I had never considered what it would be like to work in one, but once started, I never looked back. I very quickly applied to the MLIS program at Kent, going part time while working and being a single mother. It was wonderful. Once I completed my MLIS, I worked at several other County Libraries as the head of adult services. Through all this time, I lived in Cleveland Heights and used and admired our libraries. When the Coventry Branch Manager position opened, I applied and was very fortunate to be offered the job.
Q: What are the most significant events, projects, and changes you oversaw in your time at Coventry?
First, we have done a major renovation of the physical building, but in stages rather than as one, big project. During the last 15 years, we have restored the beautiful slate roof, refurbished the original windows, had the entire exterior of the building tuck pointed, and had the foundation water-proofed. We tarped the front garden for a full season to kill the invasive weeds that had taken over; then with the wonderful direction and collaboration of Mary Finley of Finley Landscaping, we planted the bed with glorious perennials as well as keeping a corner with milkweed for the Monarchs. We added a collaborative garden (two raised beds) behind the building with two lovely benches donated by a generous customer. We have repaired sidewalks, and recently added a row of effective bike racks with a bike repair station. On the interior of the building, we painted, replaced draperies, installed new carpet, and added new computer furniture. I could go on and on.
We are currently getting ready to refurbish the basement to add meeting rooms. We will upgrade the HVAC systems as well.
As soon as I started as manager, we reorganized and began developing the collection. We have paid close attention to the tastes and preferences of our customers, and I think many are pleased with the results. We began the local author collection and developed the related local author program focus. We also continued and expanded the Deaf collection and the Deaf services that have been a mission at Coventry for decades. Using the room behind the circulation desk that at one time served as the staff office, we enlarged the DVD and cd collections 20-fold, creating an expanded collection that has been very popular at Coventry Branch. And we have continued to develop a rich picture book collection as well as children’s and teen books.
Q: What are you most proud of regarding your time at Coventry?
In the large room at the back of the building, we created a children’s room that we named The Shire. It houses all the children’s material, a fish tank, toys, and small play areas. This room has been very popular with our families, a space where parents and children can play, read, and relax.
We have always had excellent storytimes and other children’s programs at Coventry Branch, and I’m proud that we have continued that tradition. I’m also proud of the popular adult programs we have developed: Tai Chi/Qigong, the Cedar-Coventry Author Series, Step Out of Time, the Cleveland Institute of Music monthly concerts, the Heart of Dying Conversations, and the Tuesday Meditation series, to name a few. I am also proud of the Deaf programs we offer: ASL classes, Deaf movie night, and Deaf Gathering.
Finally, I have been proud throughout these 15 years of the extraordinary Coventry staff who each offer welcoming attitudes and professional service to our community. When I am orienting new staff to the branch, I tell them they are joining a tradition of true excellence and that they will go home knowing they have done some good in the world that day.
Q: What are you planning to do during retirement?
I will begin by spending huge amounts of time with my three-year-old grandson and my dog. I will be doing lots of creative cooking and playing board games with my two sons when they will put up with me. I will also lavish some attention on my neglected gardens and clean up a few areas in my house that need some organization or painting. I do plan to be part of some Library projects, but I’m going to be free of schedules for at least a couple of months!
Q: What will you miss the most?
I will miss this library, staff, and community every day. I have had the most engaging and enlightening job in the world. I will miss so easily knowing what is going to be published next week and next month. Our customers have often led me to my favorite books and movies, and have enjoyed knowing mine. I will so miss those conversations. I will miss getting up every morning to do work I believe in with people I admire and appreciate.
Q: Any parting thoughts?
This is truly the most interesting, creative community I know of, and I appreciate that many of you truly love and value your local library. Using your library is the only way to keep it open. Never hesitate to tell us what you want to find on our shelves or to tell us if there is something more we can do for you. I know we have been closed or open only partially for a long time now, but I trust we will have the doors fully open again before too long. I hope you will be here then to check out a book, attend a program, ask us for information, use a computer, or have a relaxing read. And thank you for making these last 15 years a wonderful journey.