Staff Spotlight: Meet Our Engineering Department
Hours before the New Orleans Public Library buildings open, Dezire S. and her team of engineers are already hard at work.
Maintenance engineer Karry C. is typically the first to arrive –– often around 5:30 a.m. –– with Dezire getting in closer to 7 a.m. Together, along with plant attendant Kendall R., they check the temperature and water pressure at all 15 Library locations to make sure the buildings meet the requirements to open, all while tackling the arduous task of cooling Main Library.
Dezire, 31, started working at the Library in 2017 as a plant attendant with no formal training. Over the next three years, she earned a total of seven licenses, including two first-class certifications. In October 2021, Dezire was promoted, becoming the first woman to serve as Chief Engineer of the New Orleans Public Library.
“I came into this job with no experience in the field at all,” Dezire said. “I thought I wanted to be a nurse, and it wasn’t until I had gotten through all of my coursework in nursing school and made it to my clinicals that I realized it wasn’t for me.”
After transferring her credits, Dezire earned a degree in biology with a minor in environmental studies and started exploring new career options.
“I was born and raised in New Orleans East and the Library was always so important in my life. I don’t think I could have gotten through school without the Library. So, when I saw that they were hiring in their facilities department, I thought ‘I could do that,’ put in an application, and got the job,” she said.
“I was pretty much just an assistant, getting tools and following the engineers around, but I was just happy to be there.”
Until one day, when Karry tapped Dezire on the shoulder, and asked if she’d be interested in getting certified to be a maintenance engineer, like him.
“I was like, ‘Heck yeah.’ I’m a single mom, and I was willing to do whatever I could to get a leg up, financially,” Dezire recalled.
Karry started working at the Library in 1993, and Dezire said she couldn’t have asked for a better teacher.
“Karry has been a mentor to me for the past six years,” Dezire said. “He helped me study, he trained me, and he always vouches for me. I have so much respect for Mr. Kerry, I owe so much of my success to him.”
Over the years, Karry said he’s admired Dezire’s dedication, drive, and interest in learning new things.
“On the first job we worked together, I realized she was in unfamiliar territory with the machines and equipment. Pretty quickly, though, she showed me the courage she had within,” Karry said. “I admire how she pushed through her field. She can troubleshoot and learn the job in adverse conditions. Within three years, she rose from plant attendant to first-class engineer, and that’s a very impressive feat.”
Every day, Karry, Dezire, and Kendall work tirelessly to keep Library buildings open, which is not an easy task. Dezire said the vintage machinery requires expert maintenance throughout the day, every day. At least one of the three must be in the engine room when the chiller is running, as it requires manual upkeep to ensure things run smoothly.
“We follow the Library’s policy, which requires us to keep the building below 82 degrees to open. But, with the equipment we’re working with, that’s not always feasible,” Dezire said, noting that the recent heat waves have made the job even harder.
“I’m pretty much working 24/7, even if I’m not on duty. If something goes wrong – an alarm goes off, or something breaks – I want to be there to fix it,” she said. “This job feels like home, so I treat the buildings like they’re my house. If something is broken in my house, I want to fix it and I want to fix it right.”
But, she said it’s all worth it in the end.
“I am so proud to work here, and I’m so proud to be in this position,” she said. “The Library was so important to me growing up. Knowing that it’s my job to keep these buildings comfortable for people who, like me, rely on them is an honor. It’s hard work, but I love it.”
Dezire said she couldn’t do the job alone.
“I owe everything to Don, our facilities manager, for taking a chance hiring me as plant attendant and just giving me this opportunity,” she said. “And the work that, Ryan from maintenance, Kiana, our office support specialist, and Michel in the business office do in their departments are vital to helping me run mine as smoothly as possible.”
An added perk of the job, she said, is being able to feed her love for libraries every day while also passing it down to her 7-year-old son.
“It’s hectic and loud down here in the engine room, but going upstairs into the Library is like a utopia. No one is judging you, everyone is welcome. It’s an environment that makes me want to come to work,” she said.
As a woman, Dezire said it’s sometimes a struggle to get contractors and other professionals in the male-dominated field to take her seriously.
“But not here at the Library. I feel lucky to have so much support from leadership here, and from my team,” she said. “Mr. Karry and Mr. Kendall always have my back, and I have theirs. We’re a real team.”
Dezire is currently looking to add to that team to ease some of the burden on herself, Karry, and Kendall. Applications are open for both plant attendants and maintenance engineers.
In August, the New Orleans Public Library teamed up with Fish in a Tree to host a 4-part Sensory Storytime series.
The Library is celebrating Hispanic & Latinx Heritage Month through Oct. 15. You can celebrate, too, with these recommendations.