People & Stories Oral History Project: Karen Smith

Dr. Karen P. Smith is multi-faceted. Before her career as a professor, she served as principal of two schools in Yonkers and the Director of Integration for the district. She was handpicked by a superintendent for the Director of Integration job, an honor that came during Yonkers' conflicts with the federal government over racial inequalities in the city. As principal to children whose schools were transformed over the course of the summer of 1986 and ambassador to their (sometimes angry) parents, Smith faced numerous challenges. Interestingly, she recalls few conflicts between students and says she spent most of her time allaying parents' fears.

Smith created programs that promoted cross-cultural dialogue through the study of children's literature–her true passion–and inadvertently created the conditions for her next career to begin. In a space of a few weeks in the mid 1980s, she was contacted by Teacher's College, her alma mater, and Queens College to teach children's literature at both places. Never one to balk at the opportunity to be in an academic setting (Smith has numerous master's degrees and a PhD), she accepted both offers and spent her time shuttling between Queens, Manhattan, and Westchester to teach. Each semester she brought library science students on field trips to the White Plains Public Library, presumably to show them what a great library looks like!

We discussed more than just her resume during our hour-long conversation. Smith explains her fondness for the White Plains-Greenburgh area and why she chooses to make it home. She's lived in White Plains since 1998, but her family moved from the Bronx to Greenburgh in 1964. We also have a conversation about the education of librarians that might be a little inside-baseball for most listeners. It comes near the end, so don't worry!

Categories: Oral History.