Personally speaking: Julie Kelsall-Dempsey

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Whatever the cost of our libraries – the cost is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.
— Walter Cronkite

Julie Kelsall-Dempsey is celebrating her 20th year working for the Highland Public Library. She began as the assistant children’s librarian in 1993 and was appointed interim director in 1996. After she completed her master’s in library science in 1998, she was permanently appointed as the director.

“It’s funny,” she mused, “because when I was getting my BA in English, I never really thought about becoming a librarian!” Once she started working at the Highland Library, her inner librarian self emerged. She has lived in Highland for 26 years, and said that she was “fortunate enough to be able to build a home on her family’s property.”


“People think [being a librarian] is all about books and cataloguing, but I see it as much more than that,” she said. For Dempsey, being a librarian is also about “helping people find work; providing a place for kids to come and hang out after school in a safe environment and for all community members to come and socialize. It’s also about creating an environment for people to learn skills and gain knowledge. For me, it’s also important to provide people who may not have a computer at home with access to one. I agree with Keith Richards, who said, ‘Libraries are the great equalizer.’”

Dempsey is the subject of this week’s New Paltz Times Meet & Greet.

Business or Organization:
Highland Public Library.

Library director.

Where are you from originally?
I was born in Astoria, but moved to the Town of Poughkeepsie/Wappingers when I was 7. I lived there until I went to college.

What makes Highland unique?
I think the people in Highland make it unique. There are families that have been here for four or more generations, and then there are families that moved in recently. There are commuters working in and around the City, and people who just have weekend homes here. It is still a community where people come together to help and support their neighbors. It is a growing community that maintains its small-town appeal.

What do you like about this community?
I have always liked the small-town feel. When my children were going to school, I thought it was great that they were with the same kids from kindergarten on. I appreciated how well the teachers really got to know the students. It was so different growing up in the Wappingers School District.