“I started taking classes again, being with other people and started relating to people,” she said. “I had a panic attack before I went in, I didn’t get much out of the first day. But that day I also decided I wasn’t going to let my husband have any power over me. And from then on, I decided, I was going to be the first person to have my hand in the air.”
With libraries her passion, Birtell set out to obtain a career at one. When Clinton’s director position opened up, she cut her master’s pursuit short.
After years of abuse, Birtell said “respect” was her top value as CPL director. In her view, it’s the reason speaking out against perceived “disrespectful” actions has come so easily.
“There has to be respect for the people that were hired to do a job,” Birtell said. “When they come back and say this is our recommendation, based on a job, based on facts, the people need to respect that the labor’s not done in vain.”
She added later: “Respect is a big issue with me.”
To Kinser, the accomplishments are many.
Birtell reeled in a previously distant library, regularly attending city meetings among other advocacies. She encouraged librarians to become more involved in the community and created an open dialogue with her staff.
“Amy was more than a manager,” Kinser said. “Amy’s a leader and that’s what I’ve seen as her staff has kind of developed.”
Through this, the library overcame many previous obstacles. Birtell helped populate the CPL calendar with numerous community activities, found use of the vacated Lyons branch (it now exists as a functioning community center), set up a book mobile, bolstered the city’s summer reading program and steered the main branch (located on South Third Street and Eighth Avenue South) toward renovations to come.