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New head librarian welcomed by Captiva community

By Staff | May 18, 2016

Captiva Memorial Library Head Librarian Susan Totter. MEGHAN MCCOY

Susan Totter, who recently moved to Fort Myers from the Hudson Valley area of New York, became the new head librarian of the Captiva Memorial Library on April 14.

A Long Island born and raised resident, she worked as the library director in the Hudson Valley area for seven and a half years before transitioning to Southwest Florida.

“I was looking for a different opportunity and different experience. This position here I saw, and it sounded very interesting, so I decided to pursue that. It certainly didn’t hurt that it was on Captiva Island. I love libraries and I love the beach and it was kind of the perfect combination,” Totter said laughing. “Sometimes when you have a chance to take it, you go for it.”

Although she had the opportunity to visit the island before she accepted the job, Totter took a leap of faith.

“The people I interviewed with, I felt very comfortable with them and decided that I was going to come down and try it out,” she said.

Now after spending about a month in the area, Totter said it is absolutely beautiful on Captiva Island. Although she saw some of the season’s traffic when she first arrived, she said she’s glad it has slowed down, so she can really experience the islands.

“It gives me an opportunity to see more of what’s around instead of just seeing the traffic,” Totter said. “I’m trying to see what is really out here and on Sanibel. I feel like I am really in their (vacationer’s) shoes right now and I’m trying to take advantage of that. I’m trying to take this down time to get those answers when I’m still in that frame of mind.”

The people have offered a nice welcome for Totter, and her co-workers Naomi and Leslie, have been extremely helpful and great to work with as she goes through the transition.

Since taking on her new position, she has already noticed some differences between the library she used to work for and the Lee County Library System. The Captiva Memorial Library is part of a county library system, and the library in New York was an individual library.

In New York, Totter explained that some towns may have branches, but they are still a town system.

“That was part of the appeal of something different for me,” she explained. “I wanted to see how something else worked. That was really a big thing. I could have got another position similar to mine, or in a bigger library, but I decided to try something completely different.”

Totter said because of how large the Lee County Library System is there are different departments that help handle different things, which differs from the New York library in that a specific library was responsible for those tasks. She said there are many more people assisting as part of the job.

“I’m still trying to get used to all these people helping me do my job,” she said laughing. “It’s very different and I think I’m still trying to understand how it all works and the benefits to that.”

When working in New York, she said the funding would come from a library consortium providing certain services as sharing books, although each library still operated on their own budgets. Totter said each library was managed and run independently.

With the Captiva Memorial Library, funding comes from the county, which is distributed to the entire system. She said what’s great about the county system as a whole is the funding, which is beneficial for libraries.

The desire to work in a library, although she has always loved reading and books, came later in life after Totter pursued other careers. She started off in hotel management for a while before deciding to change her path after becoming tired of working all the holidays, nights and weekends.

Since she was always involved in music, Totter went back to school to get a degree in music education. With a requirement of having a master’s degree in New York, she decided to look into more options.

“I’m a strong advocate of music and reading together with helping kids with reading. So, being a music teacher and loving books, that was just a big thing for me, a lot of times in some of my music classes, if I could tie something in with a book, I would,” she said.

While sitting on a library floor in the children’s room, it dawned on her, “Why don’t I get a master’s degree in this?”

Totter had to do some student teaching to earn her certification, which turned into a job. She began working in a school library, which she really enjoyed. From there Totter decided to apply for a public library director position when cuts were starting to be made at the school.

After being offered the position as the library director, Totter fell in love with her new career path.

“What I really loved about it, we really had a lot of flexibility in what we could offer with programs. We were working with adults and kids,” she said. “I really ended up enjoying public libraries a lot, even more than being in the schools. I had a wonderful job, wonderful staff, but I was at the point where I could make a change and I felt that I needed to get a different experience.”

Having the opportunity to work with the community is what she has enjoyed the most about working in the library system. Totter said hopes to learn from the Captiva community of what to offer, as far as programs.

“I think an important part of the library is really being apart of that community and trying to give those opportunities,” she said of offering something for people to get together and meet one another. “I’m hoping to get some feedback from people that are here and get a feel of some of the things they may like.”

Totter said she would like to offer programs throughout the year, not just at the height of season. She said she believes sometimes people do not realize what she can provide at the library.

“Maybe if I put some ideas out there, there may be some things to try and consider,” Totter said.

She also hopes to partner with some businesses in the community by offering programs individuals can do with others, and experience things they may not have experienced quite yet.

By the end of the summer nicer and more attractive seating will be added to the Captiva Memorial Library, due to recent funding they received.

Totter loves the outdoors. She brought her kayak and bike down from New York and has begun exploring when the time affords her. She hopes to go to “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge to participate in a guided tour in the near future to learn about the plants and animals of Southwest Florida.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.