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Newport's library director to retire

City manager praises Cynthia Cowell's expertise and vision. She was a prime mover behind the expansion of the central branch.

July 30, 2013|By Jill Cowan
(Handout )

Newport Beach Library Services Director Cynthia Cowell, who helped oversee the more than $11 million expansion of the city's central library during the construction of its new civic center, will retire Oct. 5, according to a news release.

Cowell said Tuesday that she plans to join her husband, who works in Nashville, Tenn.

"We just wanted to start planning for retirement, and then a job opportunity came up for him in Nashville, back in late winter," she said. "We just said, 'Let's start looking for a house.'"

That she and her husband were able to find a home close to his family, coupled with the end of the library expansion project, made for "a good time to jump."

The decision, she added, was "absolutely not" tied to a recent dust-up involving the way the department keeps track of the city's art inventory. Several pieces totaling about $675 in value were unaccounted for, and the city has since made changes to its record-keeping process.

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City Manager Dave Kiff called Cowell's tenure "a success story — how she kept libraries relevant in 2013, when some libraries are not."

He said in a statement that Cowell's "expertise, vision and, of course, her Texas charm are a winning combination."

Cowell, 62, took over the Newport Beach Public Library in June 2008, after working in libraries around her native Texas, then spending about a decade as the Moreno Valley Public Library director.

She said she has made keeping pace with the new ways people read and get information a top priority, adding e-books and tablets to the library's collection.

"Certainly if you think about libraries, from papyrus and scrolls to books, things change for libraries, and they always have," she said. "The way of the world is electronic now."

That, she said, meant drawing more people to the library as a destination.

"It's that thing: Build it, and they will come," she said. "If you dream it, it can happen."

Cowell recalled a meeting soon after she came to Newport, when the expansion plan was just a twinkle in her eye — or a drawing on a cocktail napkin, as the case happened to be.

"I had said I want to add on to the Central Library, and everybody laughed at me," she said.

But Cowell saw a literal opening with plans for the Civic Center, which involved a bridge connecting the unbuilt city office building to the library.

"`You're going to cut a hole in this building, you might as well add on to the library,'" she recalled telling Councilman Ed Selich during a meeting.

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