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Meet Terry Lucas, Shelter Island Library’s new director

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO | Newly named Shelter Island Public Library Director Terry Lucas having coffee and conversation at Stars Café one morning last week.
Newly named Shelter Island Public Library Director Terry Lucas having coffee and conversation at Stars Café one morning last week.

She was an attorney with one of Wall Street’s most prestigious firms, practicing commercial law, handling complicated multi-state mortgage transactions.

“It was quite the fascinating life,” Terry Lucas said. “But there was something missing.”

Added to the feeling of living a not-quite-complete life were pressures that too often were inescapable.

With a young child at home and finding herself working into the wee hours and then going back to the office with little or no sleep, something had to give.

She took an opportunity to move to the East End when her husband at the time got a job in Westhampton and Ms. Lucas landed a position as an attorney with Riverhead’s Twomey, Latham, Shea & Kelly. Her work for the firm was mainly real estate law and her clients and colleagues were an interesting and caring bunch. But once again, there was a feeling of wanting more. “I wanted to be closer to people and not just numbers,” she said.

And she also wanted to be closer to books.

She did just that, walking away from her law practice and becoming immersed in the world of books and reading. She owned and operated a bookstore in Westhampton for 13 years before becoming a reference librarian at Southampton’s Rogers Memorial Library. Last week it was announced that Ms. Lucas has accepted the post of director of the Shelter Island Library, effective April 15, replacing Denise DiPaolo, who is now the director of the Montauk Library.

Growing up in Auburn, California, a small town near Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, she was no stranger to the printed word.

“My mother was a huge reader,” Ms. Lucas remembered. “There were books everywhere.”

Her mother’s passion was infectious. “My mom would call me for dinner and I wouldn’t hear her, I was so deeply into my story,” she said.

Her first library experience was as a five-year-old at what she described as “the tiny” library in Auburn has never been forgotten. “I went in and just caught my breath,” she said. “I was so excited there were so many books.”

She remembers everything, from the exotic feel of plastic covering the dust jackets to the number of books (six) she was privileged to take home.

“Libraries are happy places in my memory,” Ms. Lucas said.

The California girl got a taste of the east when, after graduating from the University of Santa Barbara, she went to law school at Boston University and then scored the plum job on Wall Street.

After leaving her practice in Riverhead, Ms. Lucas launched The Open Book on Main Street in Westhampton. For 13 years, until 2011, it was the sole bookstore in town, achieving legendary status among East End bibliophiles.

“It was wonderful,” Ms. Lucas said. “What I loved about it was that the difficult part of always having to be there and the most fulfilling part were the same.”

But running a bookstore through a down economy, the rise of e-book readership and what might have been the knockout blow — a sleek and well-financed competitor opening just a few yards away — forced the closing of The Open Book.

Through the years of owning the store, Ms. Lucas thought at times she “should be doing something more secure.” With two daughters, Rachel and Sarah, approaching college age, Ms. Lucas decided to take out some career insurance, attending classes at St. John’s University, working toward a master’s degree in library science.

It was a wise move, and she easily moved into the position at Rogers Memorial when The Open Book was no more.

In addition to her library duties, Ms. Lucas is an adjunct lecturer in the graduate program in Library and Information Studies at Queens College, plus she reviews fiction for the Library Journal.

She still lives in Westhampton Beach and will commute to the Island.

Ms. Lucas said she feels fortunate stepping into an excellent program run by an accomplished staff and praised Ms. DiPaolo for her leadership and dedication.

She likes the formation of a mystery book club now in the works (as an addict of the genre) as a way to bring people into the library who might not be interested in a general fiction club. A cookbook club might also be on the boil, which could be paired with potluck suppers.

Noting that she’s impressed that the Island community is interested in lifelong learning, Ms. Lucas is interested in starting online education courses known as MOOCs, for Massive Open Online Course.

“The courses stream live on everything from Shakespeare to poetry, history and art by professors from around the world,” Ms. Lucas said. “We can pick one of the MOOCs for an evening or an afternoon and have discussions, especially in the winter, when people are housebound, to get them out of the house.”

She also wants to take advantage of the library grounds and organize events for teens, such as a scavenger hunt at night “when they’ll have the library to themselves.”

Admitting she wasn’t too familiar with the Island, she has been on explorations of late. “I want to see all the little streets and every back road,” she said.

Growing up in a small town and raising her children in one, she’s looking forward to continuing that life on the Island.

“It’s a gift,” she said.