Gloria “Dale” Cousins sits cross-legged, glasses tucked into her reddish-brown hair and recounts the story of her first library job. She was 17.
“I was working in the children’s room in the old main library downtown,” Cousins said. “I would come in on Monday, straighten everything up from the weekend and then a particular day care center, Pam’s Place, would come in on Monday afternoon and just destroy the place!” she said with a hearty laugh.
“So I’d come back in on Tuesday and say, ‘Okay, back to the beginning here.’ ”
Forty-two years later, Cousins is retiring from Wake County Public Libraries, where she has worked for more than 35 years. She is the senior manager for communications and community relations. Tuesday marks the last day in her Cameron Village Library office, which she has been disassembling for weeks.
“Every day I go home with a box of something,” Cousins said. “It’s bittersweet.”
The work Cousins began as a teenager blossomed through her college years and became a career after her graduation from N.C. State University in 1976. Her bright personality and attention to library patrons soon made her a favorite, according to long-time colleague and retired librarian Ron Jones.
“Dale really knew her patrons. They would come to the library and want to talk to Dale,” Jones said. “She wanted to make sure they got what they needed when they walked in the door.”
Moving, building, enlarging libraries
In addition to being friendly, Cousins could tackle large projects – like moving an entire library into an abandoned cafeteria, twice. The first time was while she was a young manager of the Cary Library from 1984 to 1985 and the library moved into an old K&W cafeteria in the Cary Towne Center, where dirty dishes remained stacked in the sink.
“It was kind of creepy,” Cousins recalled. But she loved being part of the moving process, watching the books disappear from the shelves and reappear in the new location.
“It was like watching a beehive. The library kind of collapsed on itself,” she said. “Then as it came up, it sort of blossomed. I wish I could have had it on film.”
By 1986, Cousins held a master’s degree in library science from N.C. Central University. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she coordinated adult services, where she managed the book budget and the book selection for all the adult books for the Wake County Public Library system.
Responsibilities mounted as Cousins’ career advanced. In 1993, she began managing five library outlets. As manager, she helped renovate and expand the Cameron Village Regional Library from a cramped 2,000-square-foot location on Woodburn Road to the bustling 36,000-square-foot building on Clark Avenue.
For that project, Cousins received several awards, including the city’s Sir Walter Raleigh award and an award from the North Carolina chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Colleague Jean Ells, manager of the Cameron Village Library, said Cousins’ work ethic defines her.
“That’s what makes her so great,” she said. “When Dale says, ‘Let’s do so and so,’ she means ‘Now.’ ”
A busy life in books
In Cousin’s busy life, “Now” is a necessity.
She serves on the boards of the Literacy Council of Wake County and Wake County Smart Start. Once every couple of months, she visits each of the 20 libraries in the Wake County system to chat with the managers. She is also incoming president of the N.C. Library Association for the 2014-15 term.
Laura Walters, executive director of the Literacy Council of Wake County, has known Cousins for nearly a decade, and said Cousins’ involvement has been priceless.
“We have a wonderful partner with the library system in Wake County, and have had a lot of success in the library system there,” Walters said. “That is because of Dale.”
Cousins said her helpful attitude and ability to remember names comes from her love for people.
“When people talk about the books they’re reading, they are telling you a lot about themselves,” she said. “I love that.”
She will miss the people but said she will have more time to care for her tiny “urban garden” and nine bantam hens. It may be the closest thing she gets to her childhood, when she ran around in a pixie haircut on her family’s small tobacco farm outside Knightdale.
Leading the way for others
Part of the inspiration for her retirement came during a recent state library association conference, she said. During the opening session, the speaker asked all newcomers to stand up.
Over half of the people in the room rose.
Seeing the next generation of librarians got Cousins excited. She thought, “It’s time for people who came into the workforce in the ’70s and ’80s to hold the door open for new leadership.”
She decided to do just that.