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Library gets new director

Gene Coppola, a veteran of Pasco County's library system, will take over June 5 at the Palm Harbor Library.

By ROBERT FARLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


PALM HARBOR -- At 29, Gene Coppola found himself at a career crossroads.

An avid reader, he wrote down the jobs he thought he would like and the ones he thought he would be good at. His conclusion: librarian or teacher.

So began his library career. That career path -- which has led him through Pasco County's library system for the past 10 years -- now takes him to the Palm Harbor Library, where he will take over as director on June 5.

Coppola's selection last week by the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency brings closure to the controversial resignation of the last director, Lou Paolilli.

Paolilli was criticized after firing a 76-year-old employee who worked in the children's section.

On Dec. 2, Carol Cannella, a 10-year employee, was drinking a cup of coffee in the library break room 15 minutes before she was due to begin work when Paolilli asked her to report to her station.

When Cannella said she wanted to finish her coffee first, Paolilli fired her and ordered her off the property. He called sheriff's deputies and told them that Cannella was a former employee who was trespassing at the library.

About a half-dozen employees resigned in protest over Cannella's treatment.

Paolilli stepped down in early February, saying he was leaving for personal reasons. Coppola, currently the branch manager at the Land O'Lakes Library, said he was aware of the Paolilli situation but did not want to discuss it.

"All I can say is that different managers have a different way of handling situations," he said.

Coppola said he has an inclusive, laid-back and team-oriented style.

"Yes, I will be the boss," he said. "But I want to make sure we're all moving in the same direction. If people are in on things from the beginning, they go a lot smoother."

Tony Meo, chairman of the Palm Harbor Library Advisory Council and head of the search committee, said Coppola seemed to be the right person for the job.

"Our feeling was that he not only had the credentials, but also the ability to solve problems," Meo said.

The library council received 25 applications for the job.

Coppola has been with the Pasco County library system for 10 years, the last seven as branch manager at the Land O'Lakes Library. Before that, he spent six years in the Brooklyn, N.Y., library system.

Like Palm Harbor, Land O' Lakes is an unincorporated community, Coppola said.

"It forces you to do a lot of outreach in the community," Coppola said, "which I enjoy."

Coppola said he has several ideas he'd like to propose for the library, but he'd like to run them by library personnel before revealing them. One idea he'd like to at least consider, he said, is a coffee shop or cafe in the library.

Coppola, 45, of Town 'N Country has two teenage daughters. His wife, Sharon, is a branch manager at a St. Petersburg library.

Barbie Bonjour, Pasco County's libraries director, said Coppola has been very popular in the community there.

In 1996, the community rallied around Coppola after he learned that he needed a heart transplant. It was a shocking experience, Coppola said, because he was so young.

"I figured I could sit back and cry about it or take care of it," Coppola said. He had the transplant in December of 1996, and "I have never looked back since."

More than three years later, Coppola says he feels great. He canoes and bikes often. Not surprisingly, he also likes to speak on behalf of organ donation.

A New York native, Coppola is also an avid Yankees fan, as any visitor to his office can attest. Coppola earned a bachelor of arts degree from Iona University and a master's degree in library science from St. John's University.

Bonjour said Palm Harbor residents can expect to be greeted by an "engaging, friendly guy, open and receptive to what people want.

"We'll miss him here and we wish him well in Palm Harbor," she said.

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