As a child growing up in Central Florida, Cynthia Plesner wasn’t surrounded by books. In fact, she only remembers one.
“I actually was raised in a home that the only book in our home was the phone book. So I was a reluctant reader,” Plesner said. “My first story time was not until I was in third grade. My third grade teacher read ‘Henry Huggins’ by Beverly Cleary and it changed the trajectory of my life.”
As an adult, Plesner’s education and career choices have been all about books, including her current position as the library director for the Dothan Houston County Library System – a post she began in June – overseeing the main library in downtown Dothan as well as the Westgate and Ashford branches.
“Every career I have ever had has been surrounded by books and that is my passion – putting books into children’s hands; helping our team put books in the hands of the community,” Plesner said. “I love that we have a fabulous bookmobile and that we are not just limited by the three locations. We’re about being out and about in the community and taking the books to those who can’t come to us.”
The 38-year-old Plesner has worked in library services for six years. She worked in management with Barnes & Noble Booksellers and got her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in library and information science from Florida State University. Before she came to Dothan, she worked in three library systems in Central Florida.
While she was library director for the City of Tavares Public Library in Lake County, Florida, she helped secure and implement a grant to provide a “Welcome Baby” bag that included a soft book and a baby’s first library card for every newborn child delivered in the city. Through her participation in the Sunshine State Library Leadership Institute, Plesner led an initiative to increase library access to all public school students with a partnership between the Marion County library system and public school system.
“I’m very passionate about early literacy, so that zero-to-3 age group is such a critical time period and growing our outreach to that particular age group is only going to help our community long-term,” Plesner said. “Those are critical ages to begin that talk, read, sing and play.”
Learning, however, should be a lifelong pursuit, Plesner said.
“I am very passionate about advocating for lifelong learning,” she said. “I think that every day that we don’t learn something new is a day that’s wasted, so I encourage our team members to constantly be pursuing professional development and learning something and pursuing those things that spark curiosity.”
Plesner’s husband, Carl, was born in Dothan and raised in Panama City, so she was familiar with the Wiregrass when she applied for the Dothan job.
Plesner said building even more community partnerships is vital as library systems continue to evolve with technology and what they offer the public.
The Dothan Houston County Library System offers free Wi-Fi as well as access to computers, movies, games and a selection of items ranging from a metal detector to a sewing machine through its Library of Things. The system also provides Connect Pass, a system that allows users to book free passes to local places like Landmark Park, the Dothan Area Botanical Gardens and Escape Dothan.
“I could tell very early just from coming into the library … this is a well-run team; it’s a forward-thinking team,” she said. “You can see the vision in the programming; in the services that we offer and provide. Our system is really kind of on the cutting edge of library services and that’s exciting.”