One chapter ends and another begins

When the town was first hiring for a position at the library, Alyce Deveau said she was asked if she would stay on for a full year. When she agreed, the town immediately hired her. 

Now, 38 years later, Deveau is celebrating her retirement.

“I’ve enjoyed every second of it here,” Deveau said. “I’m lucky to say that there was never a morning where I wasn’t happy to go to work.”

Deveau, Swampscott’s dedicated librarian and library director, has retired after almost four decades of creating book clubs, programs, and helping everyone in town feel at home in the public library. 

“It’s bittersweet,” said Ellen Winkler, secretary for the library’s Board of Trustees, at Deveau’s retirement party. “We’re going to miss her so much, but we can’t help but to celebrate her today.” 

Approximately 100 people gathered on the Town Green on Oct. 1 to eat Chinese food appetizers — Deveau’s favorite — and chocolate cake to celebrate the director. People stopped by to congratulate the librarian on her years of service and to thank her for making the library feel so welcoming. 

“They aren’t just my patrons anymore,” Deveau said. “Over the years, they’ve become my friends.”

In addition to Deveau’s friends and family, state Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) and Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald attended the informal ceremony; both spoke about how much Deveau will be missed.

“You’re truly an inspiration,” Crighton told Deveau. 

Crighton presented the librarian with a citation from the Senate, commemorating the years of work she has done for the town. Although state Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) couldn’t make the celebration, she also had prepared a citation, which recognized Deveau’s hard work. 

“Our libraries are engines for culture and community,” Fitzgerald said. “Alyce always welcomes people to be a part of Swampscott’s.”   

Deveau started six different book clubs, the Lou Gallo History Buffs, and programming over digital sites to keep people connected during COVID-19. In 2019, she said that she noticed the anger that was felt by many, with organizations like Black Lives Matter coming to the forefront of national conversation, and she wanted to do something about it. 

“You dedicated a year to offer programming with an anti-racist theme,” said Assistant Library Director Susan Conner. 

Deveau created events for this theme, including a reading of Frederick Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” and worked with Swampscott Unites, Respects, Embraces (SURE) to create a book collection within the library called “One Topic One Town: A Journey Towards Dismantling Racism.”

These programs and collections won her the Essex Media Group’s “Person of the Year” award in 2020. 

Even though she is retiring, Deveau plans to remain active in the community. She has agreed to take on the role of part-time director for the Seaglass Village, where she will create community gatherings and help connect the program’s elders with volunteers. 

Deveau described Seaglass Village as a resource “to help seniors stay in their homes.” 

While Deveau has been the library director for the past 25 years, she had worked for the library for over a decade before her appointment. She started off working as a part-time assistant, then became an assistant librarian, and then the head of circulation before assuming the office of director.

Deveau retired from her position in October, but still hopes to be a part of some of the book groups, while also giving some space to let the new director feel at home.

For Deveau, her favorite part about the job has been all the people she has been able to meet.

“The staff is great, and over the years we’ve had great staff people, but I also love the patrons,” she said. “I don’t like being in (the office). I like being out there (in the library). I spend more of my time out on the floor. I love dealing with patrons.”

Deveau has also made the effort to run book groups, language classes, and knitting groups. She said that prior to COVID-19 there were so many activities going on at the library, but she admitted that things had been tough during the pandemic.

“We were closed, totally out of the building for a few months and then the staff came back and we were working in the building,” she said. “That was almost harder than when (we’re) normally working because we were doing everything on Zoom, trying to do as much programming outreach as we could.”

Deveau said that they offered “everything we could think of to keep the library viable to the public,” including home delivery of books and offering various forms of online programming such as interviews, instructional videos, and even podcasts.

Soon after closing their physical space to the public, the library added a window in the lobby where people could go to check out books. 

With Swampscott not having a community center accessible to all its residents, Deveau said that it was her goal to make the library a place where the town can gather.

“Twenty-five years ago when I became director, I made it almost like a goal that this would become a community center as well as a library,” she said. “That’s why we’ve offered so many programs.”

Deveau mentioned how the library is specifically focused on providing unique programs and opportunities, such as group ukulele lessons and the ability to check out air conditioners.

“I try to make it something that will help anyone in the community and that’s a real big part of the library being a community center,” said Deveau.