Camille Purcell’s love of books extends far beyond the stories that they tell or the artistry of the writing — she wants to enter the authors’ minds.
She analyzes story and character development to see how authors crafted their narratives. She even read the “Harry Potter” series backward to see if J.K. Rowling’s plan for her characters was apparent throughout all seven books.
Purcell said she hoped to convey her passion for great writing to the North Shore community as the Sea Cliff Village Library’s new director. She assumed the post after Arlene Nevens retired as director on Jan. 30.
Purcell was born in 1964, the youngest of John and Angela Soldano’s seven children. Growing up in Corona, Queens, she attended St. Leo’s Catholic School until eighth grade. She loved to read from a young age, developing a particular passion for 19th century British authors like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. She also developed a love of history, which her parents encouraged from an early age.
After graduating from John Browne High School in Flushing in 1982, she enrolled in Queens College to study history. She met Arthur Purcell in a history class in 1983, and the two married shortly after she received her bachelor’s in 1986.
The Purcells moved to Forest Hills, Queens, where Camille worked as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. After a decade there, she accepted a job as a librarian at the Great Neck Library, where she first met Nevens.
Purcell said she never thought she would become a librarian, as popular culture often portrays librarians as uptight, a stereotype that she sought to subvert when she took her first librarian job, she said. She wanted to be “just somebody who was more on trend, a little bit looser and not so strict . . . I don’t go around shushing people,” she said.
In 1997, Purcell returned to Queens College for a master’s in library science, which she earned a year later. That year, she and Arthur moved to Sea Cliff because they wanted high-quality schools for their soon-to-be-born daughter, Miranda. Camille’s brother Rick knew of the village and suggested it to her, and she and Arthur were quickly taken by the architecture and arts community. They have lived in Sea Cliff ever since. They had a son, Henry, in 2002.
In 2003, Purcell left the Great Neck Library to become the librarian at Holy Child Catholic Academy in Richmond Hills, Queens. She missed interacting with the public, however, so when an assistant library director position opened up at the Sea Cliff Library in 2007, she jumped at the opportunity.
Purcell and Nevens started working at the Sea Cliff library at the same time, and Nevens said she knew immediately that Purcell would succeed her one day. Nevens took the job after retiring from the Great Neck Library. As soon as she began her work at the Sea Cliff library, the board of trustees asked if she would mentor her future replacement. She had already known Purcell from her work in Great Neck, so she said it was a perfect plan.
“She’s brilliant,” Nevens said of Purcell. “If you ever have to play Trivial Pursuit, ask for her as your partner. She’s practical and she’s even-handed. She’s both serious and has a great sense of humor, and she loves Sea Cliff.”
Purcell said she was honored to assume the directorship from Nevens. “I was very flattered that the board had that confidence in me,” she said. “I was a little excited, very nervous, but still grateful that they were willing to give me a shot to do it.”
Children’s librarian Ann DiPietro met Purcell when she brought Miranda to the library as a small child, and the two became fast friends. DiPietro said that working beside Purcell for the past 14 years has been a privilege.
“It’s a total pleasure,” DiPietro said. “She’s so calm. There’s such a serenity around Camille that she never gets rattled . . . Everything is very smooth whenever Camille is involved.”
“Camille, to me, is the consummate professional, especially when it comes to library services,” Sea Cliff Mayor Edward Lieberman said. “She has the demeanor and knowledge that’s crucial in the ongoing superb functioning of our libraries.”
Purcell said that she has enjoyed working at the Sea Cliff library from the start, and that she loves serving the community. She remembered when a man in his early 20s came in with an aide to get his first library card. She said his joy was palpable, and it showed her how much the library means to people.
As she takes over as director, Purcell said she hopes to continue the library’s recent stretch of programming and services. She has already begun expanding the young adult books section, which she said has been needed for some time.
“We want to have people come here and feel like they’re getting great service,” Purcell said, “the best materials that our budget can afford, that we have on staff knowledgeable people that can help them find information, whatever that information is.”