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New Pitkin County Library director plans to build on strong legacy

Genevieve Smith stands outside the Pitkin County Library where she was just named Director
Pitkin County Library
Genevieve Smith will step into the role of Library Director on Feb. 26. Kathy Chandler is retiring after 44 years in the role.

Longtime Pitkin County Library Director Kathy Chandler is retiring next week after 44 years in the role, and Genevieve Smith was named as her replacement.

Born and raised in Carbondale, Smith started working at the library in 2010 and is excited to continue Chandler’s legacy.

Aspen Public Radio’s Halle Zander spoke with Smith this week about what she brings to the role and what plans she has for the library moving forward.

Zander: You grew up here in the Roaring Fork Valley. What do you think is the value of having someone local running the show over there?

Smith: Oh, my gosh. Well, I feel very lucky to have been a local because I know our community members. I can give directions. I can recommend places. I sort of know what the community wants, and I am in a position to respond. And I feel like I'm sort of in a grassroots level position so, you know, people feel comfortable coming to me.

Zander: And you worked as a teacher here in the Roaring Fork Valley in the Basalt School system?

Smith: Yeah. So I grew up in Carbondale, and I went to Roaring Fork High School, and then I got my undergraduate degree in secondary education with a focus on English. So I taught ninth grade English, and I taught speech, and debate and I directed theater.

Zander: Why did you transition from teaching to library sciences?

Smith: Because of my English degree and my experience working with youth. The transition to getting my master's in library science was a really easy one for me because it was a lot of the same subject matter—my interest in literacy, forming relationships, working with the kids—which is how I started. And also when I was a student teacher, I lived with the branch manager of the Carbondale Branch Library, Marilyn Murphy. And you know, just watching her and her role was really inspirational. So I had a lot of mentees in that way.

Zander: Do you think that your history working with young people will translate into a priority for the library? Are you interested in expanding any of the youth programs that you all currently offer?

Smith: Yeah, that is one of our priorities. We are expanding our story times. We're looking forward to continuing our relationships with Theatre Aspen and the Aspen Music Festival, our community theater storytelling on Tuesdays, I believe, and our Tunes and Tales, which will happen again this summer, which is one of our more popular events. And seeing the kids in the library from zero through 12th grade brings an energy and a vibrancy to the building.

Zander: So Kathy Chandler retiring is like the end of an era. If I'm correct, she has been with the library for 44 years?

Smith: Yes, that's correct.

Zander: So what are some programs that she started or changes that she enacted that you admire or really want to continue?

Smith: Oh, well, the biggies are we are making the Aspen Music Festival archives streamable for music students. Right now, we hold the whole archive in the building, which is decades of music recordings, and we're trying to make them accessible online. And she's also really invested in preserving the cultural heritage of Aspen, and that's another passion that I share with her. And we have been working on digitizing all the local Aspen papers. The Aspen Daily News will be digitized soon up through the current year, and the Aspen Times through 1985, and those will be available online through the Colorado Historic Newspaper Project.

Zander: So what can we expect from you regarding changes at the library going forward?

Smith: Well, I think one of the reasons why the board selected me as their new director is because there’s not going to be a lot of changes right away. I share the same vision with Kathy. We want to continue having a welcoming and beautiful building. We want to continue building our collection, which we're so proud of, offering programs for all ages. So changes that I'm making … not very many. We have been working with the Redstone Inn and bringing a reading room up to our Redstone patrons, especially for the young families up there, bringing them children's books. And I'm sure you've heard the rumor that we're in very preliminary stages with hiring an architect to start some plans for a Snowmass Village station.

Zander: Is there anything else you'd like to add about what unique values the Pitkin County Library offers the community?

Smith: I mean, we have retired tax accountants that volunteer every spring to help people with their taxes. We have Rosetta Stone and Mango digital language learning resources. We have access to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal digital newspapers through our website. We have tons of eBooks. When I say tons, I mean thousands of eBooks and audio books and streaming movies, not to mention the beautiful print collection that we've carefully curated over the years. So in addition to the digital and the print collections, we also have sewing machines that we check out. We have 3-D printers. We have a beautiful makerspace and lab. So, yes, the library can meet you where you are if you don't want to come into the building, if you're interested in the digital service. It’s also a destination. If you want to come in and learn more and practice with professionals, we've partnered with the Aspen Science Center to offer coding clubs, to offer baby STEM classes. I mean, we are in a position to have these great relationships with other community nonprofits and have a great working relationship. So that's something that we want to keep cultivating and promoting to the community.

Zander: Genevieve, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Smith: Oh, thank you, Halle. It's been a pleasure meeting you.

Halle is an award-winning journalist and the All Things Considered anchor for Aspen Public Radio. She has been recognized for her work by the Public Media Journalists Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association. Before she began working full-time with Aspen Public Radio in September 2021, Halle was a freelance broadcast journalist for both Aspen Public Radio and KDNK. Halle studied environmental analysis at Pitzer College. She was an educator at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and at the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment program, where she taught youth radio and managed a weekly public affairs show.