Jennifer Seaton calls her self a “stereotypical librarian, introverted and quiet, who doesn’t look for a lot of attention.”
Under her direction, however, the Carthage Public Library has changed beyond recognition from a quiet storehouse of books in a stately old Carnegie building to a center of the digital age in a gleaming new structure more than twice its previous size.
“I hate to leave because I’ve been doing this almost half my life, but it will be exciting to see the direction that the library goes in the future, to see someone with new vision and new ideas take over,” Seaton said in an interview with The Carthage Press before her last day.
“I loved the library, I have always loved the library. I got my first library card when I was four years old and I still have all of my summer-reading program certificates,” Seaton said. “It has always been a special place for me and I feel very honored to have been able to work for this institution as long as I have.”
Gary Cole, who serves as chairman of the board of Carthage residents that governs the Carthage Public Library, said Seaton leaving is a huge loss for the library, but Seaton has left in place a talented staff.
“I have no concerns about the efficient operation of the Library,” Cole said. “Jennifer has left behind an excellent staff. Her leaving is a huge loss to the Library, however. I’m relatively new to the board and that has probably been the most eye-opening thing to me, how dedicated she is to the library, how much she loves the library and how much work she does.”
In the wake of the devastating Joplin tornado, hundreds of people had to find new jobs when their places of employment were destroyed.
Seaton’s husband, Phil Seaton, was one of them, taking a job with an automobile dealership in Merrian, Kan., in suburban Kansas City.
Seaton said the couple wanted to make sure he liked the new job before they made any permanent changes.
“We waited to make sure that that job would be a better fit for him and I had planned on eventually moving up there anyway, but I had a job opportunity that just arose suddenly last week and I had to make a decision,” Seaton said. “We decided it’s just time. We’ve been doing the commuter marriage for 18 months and it’s just time.”
Seaton was born and raised in Carthage and this move will be the first time she’s ever lived anywhere but Carthage.
Page 2 of 3 - Seaton started out her working career as a dental hygienist and earned her associates degree from Missouri Southern in 1979.
“I practiced in the dental field for a few years, then stayed at home with my son when he was born in 1981,” Seaton said. “I had a factory job, worked there for four years after returning to the workforce in 1984 and felt that just wasn’t right for me, so I returned to school at Southern in 1988. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I got a job as a summer clerk in the children’s library in the Carthage library in 1989.”
Taking the helm
Seaton was promoted to bookkeeper in 1990, then made interim director in 1991 before the board appointed her director in January 1992.
It was a time when computers were just starting to take over every day life.
“In 1989 there were two stand-alone computers in the library, one for bookkeeping and one for inter-library loan functions,” Seaton said. “We automated in 1994, offered internet to the public sometime in 1995. That was one stand-alone internet computer. Then in 2002 we received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that allowed us to expand our network and offer multiple Internet stations to the public.”
Those two changes revolutionized how libraries functioned and were huge in their own right, and directing a library through them would have been career-defining moments for a library director, but the biggest change was yet to come for Seaton.
The library’s board didn’t plan it that way, but the 101st anniversary of the library’s opening, on Feb. 6, 2006, also became the start of the change Seaton is most proud of — the massive expansion of the Carthage Public Library.
Planning for the expansion started in 2002.
“The board met with Waller McGuire, who is now the director of the St. Louis Public Library,” Seaton said. “He had extensive knowledge in renovating the Carnegie library branches in St. Louis, so the state library had him come down and consult with is. He went through our building and was very impressed with the design of our building and how well it had been kept up. In November 2003, the city put the parks/storm water tax issue on the ballot and the proceeds of that would fund $2.5 million of the building project and the library would raise the other $2 million to complete the $4.5 million project.”
Construction was finished on the new addition in May 2007 and the library moved its entire collection into that building so contractors could rebuild the original section.
The original building was finished in 2008, more than doubling the space available to the library.
Page 3 of 3 - “In no particular order, we had room for our expanded collection; a more efficient use of space; we had on-site parking, because before we didn’t have a parking lot; we’re more ADA compliant, with a more accessable building,” Seaton said. “We have expanded space for internet access as well as just a really inviting place for the public to meet.
“When we first opened up we had informal bible study groups. They would just meet and find a corner. We had some scrapbooking groups that would meet. It’s just a welcoming inviting community center.”
Seaton said the timing of the expansion was interesting to her.
“When the building was first built in 1905, there were a lot of other new things happening in Carthage, new hospital, new high school, new courthouse,” Seaton said. “Then 100 years later, you see the same thing repeated, new library, new hospital, new high school. It was just neat to see the cycle continue. Just being a part of the growth of the community and being able to offer an expanded, up-to-date library to the citizens of Carthage is fun. Again, I can’t take credit for all of this because there was a whole group that made it happen.”
Seaton said she has watched libraries change dramatically in her time at the helm of the Carthage Public Library.
“Libraries are not the hush-hush, silent tombs that they used to be,” Seaton said. “We want to be a place where the community can feel welcome and engage in what ever they want to do. I’ve got a wonderfully talented staff who will carry on and this place won’t miss a beat.”