Love of reading led Mitchell to career

Published 9:38 am Monday, June 6, 2016

It was a love of reading that led Deb Mitchell to a career that keeps her in touch with the literary world.

“I think that’s why I became a librarian, because of my fondness of reading,” she said. “I worked in the school library when I was in high school. I just love libraries because of the different kinds of people who come in. It’s just there’s always something new in a public library.”

That love has allowed her to have a 42-year career as a librarian working in Natchez, Jackson and for the last 30 years as director of the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library. It’s a career that is coming to an end.

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June 28, Mitchell will go to her office for the last time. The museum will close early for a public reception in her honor and then she will leave the library and start a new life away from the place she has served for three decades.

A graduate of LSU, Mitchell received a degree in education with the goal of becoming a school librarian, “But I went to graduate school to get my master’s.”

“My first job was in Natchez, where I was children’s librarian, then I came to Vicksburg, then I went to Jackson and I returned to Vicksburg. I jokingly say my career has been on the Mississippi River.

“That first job, I think I kind of knew what to expect,” she said. “Being a children’s librarian, I had a story time where children sometimes will be children, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness.’”

She decided to become an administrator because “the opportunity came my way, and it was something I decided to try.”

“When I had the opportunity to move into administration, I thought long and hard, because I loved working with children, but it was a good move for me; I’ve enjoyed being an administrator, although I must admit I don’t feel like I get to do library work, I do more administrative things, but that’s the way my career path moved.”

But there were times early on after becoming an administrator she wondered if she had made the right decision.

“I was a branch manager here, because (at the time) we were in a six-county library system, and I thought I knew what it would be like when I became director, but I didn’t have a clue, because before, there was another level over me, when I became director, the buck stopped here.

“But I have a good board to work with, and I have a great team here, and they make my job easy. I’ve worked with some of these people for a long time. And I still learn something everyday.”

There’s one thing providing a break from administration, she said, “Ordering books. That’s one of the library jobs I retained. I feel like a librarian when I’m ordering books, and that’s something I’m going to miss, because I look at all the reviews and I have such a long list of things I want to read, so on the other hand I’m going to be glad I’m retiring because I’ll have more time to read.”

Mitchell’s experience spans from a time when the card catalog — a large cabinet with multiple small drawers containing a large number of cards showing the book title, stack number and author — was the only way to find a book to the installation and use of computers.

Technology, she said, has had the biggest effect on libraries.

“I went to library school so long ago; we still had classes on audio-visual equipment like an overhead projector or a slide projector. Those days are gone.

“A huge change is all the formats you can get material in today. When I first started in library it was print or large print, those were the formats. But now it’s movies, notebooks, streaming. We now offer streaming services where you can download a book to your device. And e-books.”

When she first had to use a computer, she said, “it terrified me, and then I realized how much they could do for me in my job. I got over that really fast.”

Computers, she said, help make decisions when it comes to making book purchases “because you can go in an see if you need another book on a subject. Or, if you have something that is (often) circulated  — that author is popular here. Those things have helped us build our collection.”

Mitchell said the library began offering e-books because people were asking for them.

“We thought it would be very popular,” she said. “Unfortunately for libraries, we don’t have the same rules an individual buying an e-book has, and sometimes the vendors charge us a lot more. It’s not as economical as it is for an individual, because you’re buying it for a large number of people.”

One difference between the e-books and regular books, she said, is some publishers may restrict access to a certain period of time.

“When I buy a book, I pay X-number of dollars for it, and we own it as long as we want to own it,” she said.

“With an e-book, there are different rules for libraries, and I think the fear with e-books that came with some of the publishers was they were going to lose business to public libraries (because of the ease of accessing the book.) If your (library) account is up to date you can download it from your home.

“I think that’s a good thing. Every year there are more things we can offer.”

But personally, she said, “I enjoy holding a book in my hands. (But) If I’m traveling, I’ll read from my phone.”

Looking at her career, she said, she’s never regretted the decision she made to be a librarian, “And I’m lucky enough to be in a career I enjoy. I like work most days.”

She said Katrina Stokes will follow her as director, “And I think she’s going to be a great leader to take the library forward.”

And when she walks out the door for the last time June 28, “I’m looking forward to coming back as a patron, because I plan to stay here. I grew up in Hinds county and Raymond, which is a small town and a lovely town, and really thought I might retire there, but I realized I’ve lived in Vicksburg longer than anywhere and this is where my life is.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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