Assistant library director closes the book after 36-year career

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 21, 2021

 She might be retired, but former Grosse Pointe Public Library Assistant Director Peggy Kitchel — seen her at Central Branch in Grosse Pointe Farms — isn’t giving up reading or recommending books.

She might be retired, but former Grosse Pointe Public Library Assistant Director Peggy Kitchel — seen her at Central Branch in Grosse Pointe Farms — isn’t giving up reading or recommending books.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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Editor’s note: The year 2021 was marked by the departure of a number of longtime, significant officials in the Grosse Pointes. This story is about one of those individuals.

 

GROSSE POINTES — Peggy Kitchel was uniquely suited for a career in library work.

“I loved reading and books,” Kitchel said. “But I also loved helping people.”

Kitchel, 65, of Grosse Pointe Woods, retired as the assistant director of the Grosse Pointe Public Library Oct. 29 after a 36-year career with the library system. She started as a youth service librarian, and during her tenure, she worked at all three branches, served as an adult reference librarian, ran a summer reading program and more.

“There’s really no area of the library that Peggy didn’t touch in her years here,” GPPL Director Jessica Keyser said. “(And) up until the very last minute, she continued to push for improvements. She was always a big champion for change and improvements, and for the library to evolve to meet the needs of the community.”

During a virtual ceremony Oct. 13, Kitchel received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Michigan Library Association. The MLA’s annual awards are considered the state’s highest honors for those in the library profession, and the Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes distinguished service over the course of a career.

“All of the award winners are inspiring and passionate individuals, chosen by their peers through a robust statewide application process,” MLA Executive Director Deborah E. Mikula said in a statement. “With over 8,000 library employees throughout Michigan, these award winners stood out as exemplary representatives of their library, their community and the Michigan library profession.”

Keyser, who just celebrated her fifth anniversary at the helm of the GPPL in September, said Kitchel was “extremely welcoming” and helped her get acclimated to the community and its libraries.

“She definitely showed me the ropes and made sure I was introduced to everyone I needed to meet,” said Keyser, who continued to rely on Kitchel as a sounding board.

“She has made immeasurable contributions to the Grosse Pointe Public Library, and we will continue to carry on the great work she started,” Keyser said of Kitchel’s legacy.

The first person in her family to attend a university, Kitchel earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Michigan. She started her career at the Canton Public Library in 1981 and came to the GPPL in 1985. 

Over the decades, she saw a sea change in libraries, from paper card catalogues to computerized databases. Today, library patrons with Internet access at home never need to step inside a physical library, as they can access books, music, magazines and more online. 

“Now, a lot of the services are online, and it’s much more user-friendly and we reach much more people,” Kitchel said. “It’s just been amazing.”

However, libraries — including the GPPL — recognize that not everyone has Internet access or is tech savvy enough to navigate it, so physical branches remain a crucial resource, providing computer terminals and librarian expertise for those who need them. Kitchel said library patrons have thanked her for her help and have shared stories about how the library enabled them to study for their GED diploma, law school admission test and more.

Kitchel remembers helping library patrons fill out job applications and once helped an immigrant for whom English was a second language correct the grammar in his letter, helping to sponsor a friend from Ethiopia to come to America. 

“Those are the things that touch your heart,” Kitchel said.

Early in her career, Kitchel conducted story times and read to toddlers, and she said some of the youngsters in those programs have returned to the library in recent years as adults with their own small kids in tow and excitedly introduced her to their children.

“It’s a very rewarding job,” Kitchel said. “I’ve been very happy. And not many people can say they’re happy in their career.”

Kitchel said she decided to retire now to spend more time with family and friends, including her first grandchild, a 2 1/2-year-old boy. While she said she’s “ready” to retire, she admits she’ll miss the patrons and conversations about books, as well as her colleagues.

“I will miss working with this wonderful staff,” Kitchel said. “This is a great leadership team.”

Kitchel’s “Peggy’s Picks” column — a list of her favorite reads that appeared on the GPPL website and in its newsletter — became wildly popular, and local readers have been mourning its loss since Kitchel’s retirement. Because of this demand, Kitchel said she hopes to resurrect “Peggy’s Picks” in some fashion, possibly online.

“It’s been a wonderful career,” Kitchel said.

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