Your Library is Your Paradise

Sundae Horn

Peter Vankevich retired from the largest library in the world to work at the smallest.

Your Library is Your Paradise

(Well, okay, technically we’re not the smallest anymore and even when we were, it was just the smallest in the country, but the old, littlest library and also the biggest library did make it into the same book, The Inside-Outside Book of Libraries, which is, not coincidentally, on the shelves at Ocracoke Library.)

Since May, there’s been a new face at the Ocracoke Library: Peter Vankevich, who recently retired from the Library of Congress, and moved here fulltime with his wife, Mary. Almost as soon as he got to the island, he was out and about, getting involved. He quickly accepted the position as community librarian, working the after-school and summer hours.

Peter has a degree in linguistics from the University of Montreal, and a Master’s of Library Science from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. 

He enjoyed a long career at the Library of Congress, and for the last 16 of year his 34-year tenure there, he was head of the information section at the U.S. copyright office. Before that, he was a copyright examiner. He loved living on Capitol Hill, a short ten-minute walk from work.

Peter grew up in Portland, Maine and has always loved to travel. He first visited Ocracoke in 1981.

“Whenever I travel,” he said. “I ask myself ‘Could I live here?’ By afternoon on my first day on Ocracoke, I answered ‘Yes!’”

In 1999, he and Mary bought a house in Widgeon Woods – longtime Ocracoke residents will recognize it as the former home of Charlie and Butsie Brown. 

“We love our little neighborhood and our home,” Peter said.

Mary, who is a registered nurse, lived on Ocracoke with their son, Michael, for three years, while Michael attended Ocracoke School. Peter visited from D.C. as often as he could, anticipating his future retirement. Now Mike is heading off to his freshman year at Wentworth Institute of Technology, an engineering school in Boston. Mary is dividing her time between Ocracoke and Maine, where she cares for her elderly mother.

Peter is eager to get involved with the Ocracoke community now that he’s living here. He joined the volunteer fire department and also volunteered for the Ocrafolk Festival. 

Initially, he volunteered to be Ocracoke Library’s representative on the Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Regional Library board. But when the community librarian position opened up, he jumped at the chance to be at the library every day. 

Peter’s interested in making the library even more user-friendly and welcoming to island visitors. He has increased the number of children and adult titles in the “trading post” – the books available on the honor system for non-residents.

He’s also interested in helping people with research projects, and hopes that he can connect the library with more scholarly resources. He says he thinks of the process as a “reference interview” – he works to hone down to what the patron’s needs are and wants the community to think of the library as information central.

“I’d like to get local documents consolidated here,” he said. “We should have voter information, the minutes from local organizations, etc.”

Starting this fall, he’d like to hold some workshops at the library, and he’s asking patrons what they’d like to do. He’d like to find resources and jumpstart people on their research. 

“Brick and mortar libraries are limited,” he said. “And we already have some space considerations here. But I can access books from the three-county system, and try to find what people need. We’ll try to get you the book you need.”

Peter enjoys reading and says he’s a fan of John Updike’s novels and Scott Turrow’s mysteries, among others.

He’s fluent in both Spanish and French, and says he’s had many opportunities to use both at the library. In his first month on the job, he had at least one group of French speakers in every week. 

Back in D.C., Peter was a tutor for adults who were learning to read, and he also taught ESL. Here on Ocracoke, he’d like to offer programs promoting literacy for our Spanish-speaking community.

As for books – the novels and timely non-fiction that comprise the bulk of a library’s circulation – Peter says the library has a really vibrant rotation of new titles. Over 150 new titles were delivered in June – come check them out!

New books!
New books!

The library is in the process of phasing out VHS tapes and building up a collection of DVDs.

The library has 4 desktop computers available for patrons, as well as three laptops (recently purchased by Ocracoke Friends of the Library.)

Ocracoke library is part of the Beaufort/Hyde/Martin Regional Library system, which serves those three counties. We have the highest per capita rate of residents checking out books. Ocracoke is a literate place.

Our visitors are literate people, too. One such visitor was Mark Possanza, a classics professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a poet. He recently stopped by the library, struck up a conversation with Peter, and ended up donating a copy of his poetry book, Word Count, which includes two poems inspired by Ocracoke. Peter was happy to make his first addition to the library’s collection, and he also helped Dr. Possanza to join Friends of the Library.

As requested by Susan Benning, the new director at BHM, Peter is collecting statements from Ocracoke Library patrons about why the library is important to our community. Please stop by and add your comments.

Perhaps, if you've really enjoyed your vacation, you'll come up with something like this: "I've been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library." (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Or, if you're the sporty type: "I'm not comfortable being preachy, but more people need to start spending as much time in the library as they do on the basketball court." (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)

Or, depressive: "When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that American society has found one more way to destroy itself." (Issac Asimov)

Or, hopeful: "Your library is your paradise." Desiderius Erasmus

Library hours are Mon., Tues., Thurs., and Fri. 3 ­– 7 p.m., Wed. 3 – 8 p.m, and Sat. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. 




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