LARGO – Kathleen Teaze got into library science on a dare.
After working in a rape crisis center for the first few years of her adult life, Teaze told her counselor she needed a quieter life. She wanted to do something tame, like work in a library.
“I said to this counselor one day, ‘I think I need just a nice quiet job like working in a library,’” Teaze said. “And she said, ‘so what are you going to do about it?’ So she basically dared me.”
She likes to joke that she rose in the ranks because she was so good at covering books, but the truth is it is her passion for literacy and her vision of what libraries could be that set her apart from other literary science leaders. It also got her the job at Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS).
“Kathleen was one of three finalists. We thought she was the best fit,” said Michael Gannon, chief operating officer of PGCMLS. “When she came here she had a strong vision. She had a vision that she wanted to break down the barriers that kept people from coming to the library.”
Teaze was chosen as the chief executive officer (CEO) of PGCMLS in January 2010, sending her on a move across the country from New Mexico to a county in Maryland that she only knew of because of her younger sister.
“I thought it was a good challenge for me. It was a bigger community to serve than I was used to and there was a lot of possibility here,” she said. “It’s funny, I was going to the airport to fly back home to New Mexico and they called me to offer me the job and so I accepted it. And I called my husband and by the time I got home and he picked me up at the airport, he’d already started packing.”
She came to Prince George’s County prepared and with a passion to make her vision come true. She wanted to break down the barriers to the library, become a catalyst for educational improvement and she knew she had to lead a library system into becoming the resource the county desperately need.
Now, as she retires on Aug. 1 from seven of years at the helm of PGCMLS, Teaze leaves behind a legacy of creating a 21st century library system where residents of all ages can find the resources they need, where every public school student has a library card, and where early literacy is a number one priority.
“She’s very enthusiastic and passionate. If I ever needed to see her, she always found the time. She was a good mentor and she’s a women of high integrity,” Gannon said. “We have a seat at the ‘big library table’ because of Kathleen.”
Gannon and Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for county Health, Human Services and Education, Betty Hager-Francis, both credit Teaze with a number of accomplishments from her tenure as CEO of the library system.
Hager-Francis said Teaze always wanted libraries involved at the county level and saw multiple opportunities to include books and literacy in county projects. Teaze had a passion for equal access to library resources, Hager-Francis said, no matter a person’s income or the capacity of their local branch.
“As soon as she finds out that people are doing things, she always jumps in to make the library a part of it,” she said. “When we started a one-stop service center at Langley Park, with the health department, social services, and other government agencies, Kathleen immediately said, ‘great, I’ll put a kids library in there, too.’”
Teaze was also involved in a number of county projects including the county executive’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) and helped expand the program into schools; she sat on the county executive’s Commission for Education Excellence (which among other tasks makes recommendations for appointed board of education seats), and is a member of the Early Childhood/Project LAUNCH Advisory Council,
In 2016 she served as the president of the Maryland Library Association, held the chair for the Library Associate Training Institute Oversight Committee for three years and was on the state Library Resource Center Commission for three years. And all of that was in addition to serving as CEO of PGCMLS, which she said was basically a 24/7 job.
But Teaze said she is “not too big” on touting titles and awards. Instead, she said, she is much more proud of the work the library system has accomplished in the past seven and a half years.
“I don’t measure our success by awards, I measure it by how the community uses us,” she said.
And Prince George’s County does use the library. Of the nearly one million residents in the county, 628,000 actively use a PGCMLS branch and last summer, more than 33,000 children participated in the Summer @ Your Library reading program.
Under her leadership the libraries in the county became more than hubs for borrowing books and researching topics but centers for extended learning, earning a high school diploma, studying a new language, gaining access to the internet, GED testing, children’s activities and clubs, 3-D printing and even summer meals.
“My vision was to become relevant to Prince George’s County,” she said. “I wanted to take down the barriers to the library.”
Teaze’s pride and joy is the LINK program she initiated, which stands for Leap Into New Knowledge. The program automatically provides all Prince George’s County Public Schools students with a digital library card and online public library account when they register with the county school system.
“When I first met Kathleen, she shared with me her dream of putting a library card into the hands of every child in the school system, but there were many obstacles to overcome,” Hager-Francis said. “She quietly worked on it and now 132,000 kids have an eLibrary card.”
Teaze also worked on a number of initiatives to make the library more accessible to the residents of Prince George’s County. She fought for the library to become a GED testing site so county residents did not have to go outside of the county to test for their GED. She oversaw the creation of the Ready 2 Read and Books From Birth programs.
She also oversaw one of the most robust library renovation and construction program in the state.
“Under the leadership of Ms. Teaze, the library system has expanded its reach in various areas, offering several new community-based services while remaining a central point for county residents to access vital information resources,” said Alease Wright, president of the PGCMLS board.
Teaze said she enjoyed working in Prince George’s County with all of its diversity and the specific needs of its residents. She said it was a challenge because “everybody needs something different” but said it’s satisfying to “hit the right note, and you can find something that appeals and that is valued by all the different groups.”
“I’ve enjoyed it. It’s really been a great place. Maryland is a great place for libraries,” she said. “There’s a lot more support for libraries, public libraries especially.”
As she retires to hopefully spend more time with her husband, both Gannon and Hager-Francis said PGCMLS and they, personally, are going to miss her greatly.
“We were a good library when she came, but we’re a great library now. That’s her legacy,” Gannon said.
“She’s just made the library system a treasure trove of community resources and transformed the county library into a gateway to the world for everybody. And we’re really going to miss her,” Hager-Francis said. “I’m going to miss her a lot.”
Emily Blackner contributed to this report.