Berkley honors library director for 30 years of service

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published February 13, 2013

 Celia Morse, director of the Berkley Public Library, was recently honored by the city for 30 years of dedicated service.

Celia Morse, director of the Berkley Public Library, was recently honored by the city for 30 years of dedicated service.

Photo by Edward Osinski

BERKLEY — When Celia Morse first became director of the Berkley Public Library, the world — both inside and outside the library doors — was a very different place.

The year was 1983: Reagan-omics were in full effect, MTV was still in its infancy, LeBron James was not even born yet, and much of the technology that we utilize today as part of our daily lives was only a futuristic vision, on par with flying cars and talking robots.

Speaking before the Berkley City Council Feb. 4, Morse joked that, at the time, Mayor Pro Tempore Dan Terbrack, the youngest member of council, was a member of the library’s Storytime program as a toddler. But one thing remains exactly the same as it was in 1983, she noted: Sandy Levin is still Berkley’s representative in the U.S. Congress.

“The years have gone by so fast,” Morse said, noting that Berkley has had eight different mayors during her tenure as library director. “I know it sounds like such a cliché, especially when you’re 30 and you hear people who are 60 say that … but someday you’ll find yourself saying the same thing. I’d just like to thank the city for all the opportunities that I’ve had over the years. It’s been interesting, challenging, but ultimately fun.”

A week and a half earlier, on Jan. 24, library employees and city officials threw a party at the Berkley Library in Morse’s honor. Then, at the Feb. 4 meeting, the City Council publicly acknowledged her career milestone by unanimously approving a proclamation recognizing her 30th anniversary with the city.

Mayor Phil O’Dwyer thanked Morse for her 30 years of dedicated service. “Certainly, the library is very important to all of us and to our community,” he said, “and your stewardship has been superb over the last 30 years, and we are very grateful.”

City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa also took time to congratulate the library director. “Thirty years truly is an amazing accomplishment,” she said. “It’s very rare in today’s world to have someone stay so long working for an organization. It’s a wonderful, wonderful accomplishment that very few get to experience. So Celia, thank you for all of your service. Our library would not be what it is today without you at its helm.”

Morse graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1972, received her Master of Arts in Teaching English from Wayne in 1976, and earned a Master of Arts in Library Science from the University of Michigan in 1978. She began her career as director of the Berkley Library Jan. 24, 1983.

Throughout the course of her career, Morse has taken the lead on many important library upgrades. These include managing the implementation of automated circulation in April 1986, overseeing the library’s move to a temporary location in August 1997 and supervising the renovation and expansion of the new-and-improved library building, which opened in October 1998.

Morse called this period, in which a new 7,500-square-foot wing was added on to the existing 8,500-square-foot facility, the most challenging of her career. “It was so far beyond just moving into a new house,” she said. “It was such a difficult task moving the entire library into a warehouse and then having to move it all back.”

Another difficult stage occurred a little more than a decade ago, when the library’s budget was cut by 20 percent, which meant laying off some staff members, reducing hours of operation and cutting back on new materials. “It’s very hard when you work for 20 years to build something up,” Morse said, “and then it gets torn down so quickly.” But she and her colleagues persevered and continued building the library into what it is today.

In addition to supervising 22 employees at the library, Morse has served as chair of numerous committees in The Library Network and is actively involved in the Women’s National Book Association. She has also spent time giving back to the community as a member of the Rotary Club of Berkley, volunteering at many of its fundraisers and events.

Morse said that the myriad advancements in technology during the past 30 years have made the biggest difference in the daily operations of the library. Whereas, when she started, the library only provided books, magazines and records, it now offers thousands of CDs, DVDs, books on CD and downloadable books, as well as an online card catalog and 35 public computers with Internet access, along with all the traditional print materials.

“We’ve just progressed so far since then,” she said. “We now have technology at our disposal that we never would have envisioned back in 1983. Now, the cellphone that I hold in my hand can do infinitely more things than the most advanced computer could back then. Thirty years ago, people assumed that you worked in a library because you loved books; now, you have to love computers if you want to work in a library.”

Still, Morse loves that the fact that children who visit the library are often amazed by its vast collection of books. “Our Storytime program is about the only thing that has stayed pretty much the same,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to see how excited the kids still get when they see all the books that we have.”

And despite the Berkley Library’s ever-growing dependence on modern technology, Morse’s favorite part of her job remains the same as it was 30 years ago: interacting with the public.

“I just love working with people and answering their questions,” she said. “My favorite question that people ask me is, ‘What book do you recommend?’ Reading a great book and then being able to pass it along to other people who love reading is just so much fun.”

With all that Morse has done for the Berkley community during her three-decade career, it’s no wonder that O’Dwyer took a second moment at the end of the Feb. 4 council meeting to thank her again for her service.

“We are more indebted to Celia than many may realize,” the mayor said. “And that is why this recognition this evening is so fitting, so appropriate and so timely.”