Meribah Mansfield, who transformed a small town library into one of the best library systems in the country, is retiring.

Meribah Mansfield, who transformed a small town library into one of the best library systems in the country, is retiring.

Mansfield plans to step down from her position of director of Worthington Libraries on July 23 to pursue her dream of being a deacon in the Episcopal Church.

She has spent the past 38 years of her life serving libraries in central Ohio. Since 1991, she has been director of the Worthington Libraries, which grew and thrived under her direction.

When she took over nearly 19 years ago, the Worthington Public Library was a small building on Hartford Street.

Now it includes three libraries, including the Northwest Library on Hard Road, which is jointly operated with the Columbus Metropolitan Library; and the Park Road Library.

The Old Worthington Library was also expanded in 1998, and both it and Northwest were renovated over the past two years.

Technology has changed the way libraries operate over the years, and Mansfield was in the forefront of many of those changes. Worthington Libraries Online was launched in 2002, putting library services at the fingertips of patrons.

A leader statewide, she was on the Blue Ribbon Commission that formed the Ohio Public Library Information Network, and served on the OPLIN board from 1995-2001.

Mansfield has been recognized as a library leader with many state and local awards, including the Librarian of the Year Award from the Ohio Library Council in 2003.

But it was the library itself that won the biggest prize of all when it was awarded the Library of the Year Award in 2007 from Gale/Library Journal. The library was a finalist for the award in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2006.

Mansfield has also led the libraries through two successful operating levies that have allowed the Worthington system to continue operating despite massive cutbacks in state funding.

Though some programming was reduced this past year, the libraries are as popular as ever. In 1991, circulation was approximately one million pieces a year. Today, it is approximately 3.5-million a year.

Though Mansfield is proud of all those accomplishments, none of them compare to what she says is the favorite part of her job.

"By far, I'm proudest of my staff," she said. "The most challenging part of my job is challenging the staff to grow and develop."

Many former staffers have moved on to higher positions. In the past three years, four have left to become directors of other libraries.

She is also proud of the collaboration between Columbus and Worthington to build and operate Northwest Library. It was the first of its kind when it opened in 1996.

Worthington Libraries also collaborates with the libraries in Columbus and South-Western to offer Discovery Place. Through it, patrons can access just about anything in two to three days, Mansfield said.

But with the goals of the last library strategic plan met, and another one being written, it is a good time to let someone else take over, she said.

She would tell a new director that Worthington residents appreciate, love, support, understand and engage with their libraries.

"This is the greatest library job in the world," she said.

For her, it is time for a new chapter.

She is halfway through the first year of a three-year formation program, working toward ordination as an Episcopalian deacon in June 2012.

Deacons are ordained clergy who volunteer to represent Christ and his church, particularly as a servant of those in need. They also assist bishops and priests in worship services.

Her service to libraries has been highly rewarding, and now she looks forward to a second career in service to her church, she said.

Mansfield also hopes to have more time with her family, especially young grandsons, Owen and Connor.

Mansfield lives in Columbus with her husband, Bruce. Her son Matthew, 20, attends Elon University. Her daughter, Jessica Mead, 31, lives with her husband and two young sons in Toledo. She is a children's librarian at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.