Pasadena libraries director retires
Tom Simiele became director of Pasadena Public Libraries seven years ago with fresh ideas and hopes to expand the library system in ways that would engage the entire community. As he approaches retirement on Jan. 11, he said he is proud of what the library team has accomplished and looks forward to seeing how it continues to progress in the future.
One of the last issues he discussed with staff before announcing his retirement was the need for expanding the Fairmont Branch — either by building a new branch or retrofitting a space that is already in existence — and a really good teen program.
“We need more space,” he said. “The Fairmont branch is too small — we’d have even more people there if it was larger. And we need to do more for teens.”
Simiele, who turns 76 on his retirement date, says he’s retiring to move back to Cleveland, Ohio, where he once practiced law, to spend time with his first grandson and travel, including a trip to the Caribbean this summer to attend a daughter’s wedding. He’s also starting a library consulting business.
Simiele said the changes he made started on Day 1 when he toured the central library.
“The books were perfectly in rows,” he said. “Incredibly organized and not a millimeter off from one another. It was like walking into something from Star Trek — there were these long rows of lights that seemed to go on forever and all these neatly arranged shelves, but you couldn’t actually see any of the book covers.”
He saw this as an opportunity for the library to rearrange a bit and shake up the stodgy visual image that many people have of libraries.
“Publishers spend millions of dollars creating those book covers to look appealing, to make people want to read them,” he said. “When you go into Barnes & Noble, what do you see? Rows of book spines, or carefully marketed tables and shelves that invite people to look through the selection. Those stores are designed to pique people’s interest, and I thought we needed to do the same thing.”
He saw that people were using the library as a place to interact, share human contact and similar interests.
“We set up areas for people to visit with one another,” he said, “to work out problems and enjoy each other’s company.”
His library career followed 30 years of practicing law in Cleveland. He worked as director at the Bristolville Public Library in Bristolville, Ohio, as deputy director at the Euclid Public Library, Euclid, Ohio, and as director of the Indian Trails Public Library in Wheeling, Ill., before coming to Pasadena.
Simiele said he learned that by making the library a place for community to gather first, the reading would follow. In Pasadena, he introduced events, programs and elements designed to draw a wide range of people, such as Red Box-style movie rental systems open 24 hours a day where residents can rent new (and not so new) releases with just their library card.
“That’s been very popular,” he said. “And what’s even better about it is that you can see what movies we have and reserve them with our app. It’s a great option for those in our community who might not have streaming service.”
Simiele also oriented Wi-Fi routers in the library in such a way that the signal would reach the parking lot. This way, he said, people can use Wi-Fi when the library is closed.
Movie Night formed a community following, Simiele said.
Several times during the year, he said, “We pick a movie to show — sometimes it’s a foreign language film, sometimes it’s foreign director. We’ve had a silent film — people really loved that. We hand out popcorn, we watch the movie together and then afterwards we all sit around and discuss it. It’s collected quite a loyal crowd.”
He talked about a library in Oslo, Norway that is recognized worldwide for its outstanding teen program.
“First, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” he said of the Biblo Tøyen library. “It doesn’t even feel like a library. You don’t even notice the books, but they’re there, they’re just very carefully placed. What they’ve done there is made the library a place where teens want to hang out. They socialize, they can watch movies, the staff gets to know them, and that’s key. Because once the staff gets to know them they start coming in for things like help with their homework, and asking for book recommendations. We need something like that in Pasadena. Libraries lose people from the age of about 16 or 17 to whenever they start having kids they bring to the library. We need to think about what those teens want so that they have a place to go.”
A replacement for Simiele has not yet been selected, but the city is reviewing resumes.