By Elizabeth Sturgeon
Photos by Chris Jones
Judith Wright finds her second home at the Homewood Public Library, where so many go to explore or find respite or community. Thor and Loki, the library’s two chinchillas, both call the library home, just like the books in the collection. Other adventures start with visits to the library and go beyond the building to telescope discoveries, nights at the symphony and opportunities to learn a new language and culture.
The books, plus her love for Reading Rainbow, are what drew Judith to the field, but the events and resources libraries provide beyond their literary collection are what kept her in library science, now serving as the new director of the Homewood Library, where she has worked on and off over the last decade.
“I do love books, but what I love more is that I’m helping people,” she says. “That’s what libraries and librarians provide to your community because people always turn to us when they don’t know something.”
Judith found her first paid library job at the Homewood Public Library in 2010 and worked part-time in the children’s department. She later returned to work in circulation and then returned once again in 2014 to serve as the teen librarian and then “promised I would never leave, and I’m sticking to that,” she says.
In her last role as assistant director and now as the current director, Judith contributes to the same goal she’s always had at the library to provide resources of all kinds to community members throughout their lives.
“We always try to make lifelong library users,” she says. “People always turn to us when they don’t know something. While we might not know it, we know where to find the correct information.”
Judith saw this clearly in her role as teen librarian. “I love teenagers! They’re so weird and vulnerable and ready to change the world,” she says.
Judith loved getting to know teenagers through library events and programs in her seven years in the position. “I was given the creativity to be so free with what I put on our events calendar, but it was only successful because I made connections with teenagers, and with their parents, too.”
The library plays a huge role in the community, and strong connections with teenagers built the bridge from childhood to adulthood, Judith says. Usually, trips to the library tend to dwindle into someone’s teenage years, but not without events that engage teens specifically. Snakes and Snacks, a meet-and-greet with Judith’s favorite reptiles, was one of her favorite teen events.
In her transition to director, her focus revolves around Homewood Public Library’s place in the community and how they can continue to serve their visitors. This often includes keeping up with the same relationships she has built throughout her time as a librarian, and other times it involves building up programs, resources, and visibility. “Libraries are always evolving,” she says.
Books have always been an important part of her work, but the library is so much more. That’s something Judith always wants to emphasize in the community. One of her proudest moments in her time at the library is establishing the Homewood Public Library’s partnership with NASA. She is the only librarian in Alabama who is certified to borrow lunar and meteorite samples from NASA, making the Homewood Public Library one of only 75 libraries in the country with this access.
Judith’s work with NASA has led to a lasting partnership that has allowed many acclaimed speakers to come to the library, especially via Zoom during the pandemic. She also started the library’s telescope lending program, the first of its kind among Alabama’s libraries. “Those are really cool things to do because it shows that libraries are different from what you think, and everything we offer is free,” Judith says.
Outside of her space and animal-focused accomplishments at the library, Judith says the sciences aren’t usually her niche. She is more drawn to literature, of course, and art, something she finds throughout the library from the Ellenburg Art Gallery to their watercolor classes and other art programs. Her new office has steadily filled with art, including many pieces of work from the Homewood Public Library’s annual student art show. She makes sure to buy a new piece at the event every year.
Judith has so many memories with former library director Deborah Fout, who became an integral mentor to her during her years at the library. Before her retirement, Deborah spent 37 years at the Homewood Public Library, 13 of those years as director, and oversaw so many wonderful staff members and programs to do great things for the Homewood community and beyond.
The City of Homewood, plus thousands of visitors the library receives every month, drive everything they do and often inspire the ideas behind some of the staff’s favorite programs. It’s one of the busiest libraries in the area, with 75-to-100 programs a month spanning all kinds of interests for all ages. Cooking classes, mystery theatre, sign language classes and Dungeons and Dragons nights are just a handful of programs Judith says you can expect from the Homewood Public Library.
“A library can only be as great as the community it supports,” Judith says. “So, the fact that this community values their libraries so much just shows how successful we can be.”
Top Library Picks
It’s no surprise that Judith is an active reader. She was averaging 220 books a year during her years as teen librarian. “We put the right book in the hands of the right reader, and you have to know your collection to do that,” she says.
We asked her for her top picks at the Homewood Public Library.
“A Sick Day for Amos McGeeby” by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead
“Amari and the Night Brothers” by B.B. Alston
“The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo
“When Women Ruled the World” by Kara Cooney
“Letters from Skye” by Jessica Blockmole
Favorite HPL Services:
Telescope Lending Program-The Homewood Public Library is the first library in Alabama to circulate nine telescopes!
Free Alabama Symphony Orchestra tickets for Homewood residents.
Free online access to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for Homewood residents.