Debbie Firestone: Friendly Face Intergenerational Legacy

From 2008 until her retirement earlier this year, Debbie Firestone served as Head of Circulation and Bookkeeper at the Palisades Free Public Library. But she was so much more than that. She was the friendly face of welcome and a trusted research guide for library patrons, young and old. Traditionally, libraries are considered a place of learning for the whole community, but in Debbie’s case, she says, “I learned something new every day.”

Vocationally, it was a big shift: moving from anonymous behind-the-scenes work in corporate America to the small-town library where she engaged with the public in a very personal way on a daily basis. When long-time library director Beatrice Agnew passed away, Debbie’s mother-in-law Marie, who had been head of circulation and business manager since 1971, asked her to help out. Marie Firestone was a legend at the library; the community room that currently hosts seminars and multiple meetings for not-for-profit organizations, is named after her. Debbie initially turned the offer down but ultimately relented, working alongside Marie for six years until her death in 2014.

While her mother-in-law was the driving force behind Debbie’s hiring, and though they worked well together, Debbie often felt intimidated by working with “an icon.”

After Marie’s death, Debbie discovered that she really missed her. Yet, small signs around the library—a handwritten note, seeing Marie’s name printed on a folder—brought her comfort and made her feel her mother-in-law’s continued presence.

Debbie hopes that her own legacy will be the many memories of a caring, welcoming face that greeted guests and helped them navigate their research issues, whether they be newcomers to the library or those who have been coming for years. She especially liked working with residents from the Esplanade, Palisades’ assisted care facility on Oak Tree Road, giving residents access to materials they wouldn’t otherwise have. On the other end of the spectrum, there was the young boy who had been coming to the library since he was a toddler and who told her shortly before her retirement that he loved coming to the library to see her.

“It’s about the people,” Debbie proclaimed, “I loved helping people figure out how to find answers to their wide variety of questions.” And it was more than just book titles and research strategies. She saw her job as an opportunity to build relationships. Nothing made her prouder than when someone would say to her, “You’re the reason I come here.” Like her mother-in-law before her, Debbie also leaves a legacy at the Palisades library—a practical resourcefulness that encircled library-goers with kindness. For her, the library is a community center, a service organization where Palisadians have come for generations.

When Covid “threw us a curve,” she says, “we had to find ways to bring the library to them because they could no longer come to us.” She applauds new initiatives to reach out beyond the library’s walls. She says, “I truly hope the Palisades Library continues to be a vibrant community center that reaches out in innovative ways to keep folks engaged with one another and learning new things.” Marie and Debbie Firestone represent an embodiment of the legacy at the Palisades Library that is generations old.