When we caught up with Cheryl Morales on June 11, she acknowledged she was suffering from a bit of jet lag. Just days earlier Morales, the new executive director of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, had arrived from Pago Pago, where she worked for 16 years as the territorial librarian in American Samoa.
With a salary of $90,000, she replaces Mary Brown, who resigned last year during an overhaul of the organization's governing board.
The cooperative, with headquarters in Clearwater, is designed to maintain information and resource sharing among 15 libraries in Pinellas County and also ensures that residents of the unincorporated areas have access to library services.
Morales holds a master's in library and information studies from State University of New York at Albany as well as a bachelor's in fine arts from Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. Before moving to American Samoa in 1998, Morales was the head of special collections for the Sanibel Public Library in Lee County.
"In 2011, I had made a promise to my mother who lives here that my family would move to Florida. I knew it would not be quick to do that,'' said Morales, 50. "I had been monitoring job postings on the Florida Library Association's website, and on Halloween 2013, I saw the posting for this one. I knew right away it was a job that I needed to have.''
Morales is settling into a home in St. Petersburg with her husband, Livi Polataivao, and daughters, Malia, 10, and Elisa, 8.
Why would you leave a tropical paradise?
You mean, why did I leave paradise for another paradise? It has to do with being on an island for 10 years, where resources and activities are limited. Actually, there are two reasons. One is to help the family, my mother lives in St. Petersburg. The second is that I want my children to have more of an expansive education and cultural experience — or a wider array of experiences you could say.
Where was the first place you went after you arrived?
First we slept because the trip was physically draining. It included two red-eye flights, but the first place we went to, the day after we arrived, was the Gulf Beaches Public Library. I know it sounds stereotypical that I did that as a librarian, but that's where we went, and I registered my children for the library's summer reading program.
Since the job is a governmental-type of position, isn't there an element of bureaucracy to it, and how will you handle that bit of bureaucracy?
I don't see bureaucracy as something that you handle. It's all about people. It is not like a stone castle that you can't touch and communicate with. It's individual people that make it up, and as long as you can relate to people, it's all good.
As the executive director of the cooperative, what do you see as the main objective of your job?
It appears that the main objective is making sure that all the public libraries in the county have financial stability and in partnership with that it is about participating in the communication with the library directors and making sure that there is a lot of cooperation. Coming in, the work that each member library is doing is very impressive to me.
What do you think is your biggest strength?
I don't think in terms of myself as having strengths, but I would say that my adaptability is probably my biggest strength. All the places I've lived, I've found I'm adaptive to climate and culture. There are so many different cultures and populations here in Florida, and the different ethnic backgrounds of people, all of their varied contributions to the community make it so dynamic. It's a rich place to be.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.