Tracey Bennett, who has led the San Antonio Library Foundation for seven years, plans to step down at the end of 2019.

Bennett has worked at the library foundation, which raises money to support programming and other costs incurred by the San Antonio Public Library, in some capacity since 2000. She started her presidential term in 2012.

There are currently 30 library locations in San Antonio manned by around 560 employees, but the City department – which received $42.7 million in the City of San Antonio’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget – relies on the library foundation for “extras” such as the Latino Collection and Resource Center, which found a home at the Central Library in 2017.

“I have the good fortune to have my office right behind the Landa Library,” Bennett said. “I’m in a room that looks over the library and playground, and it’s packed. These are community centers. … Enhancing communities and lives through a free institution that everyone loves and adores – everyone has a library story. And it’s a place where anyone can intermingle. Rich, poor, any age, color, political beliefs: it’s come one, come all.”

Her passion for bringing library resources to the public has fueled her work and made her an effective leader at the foundation, San Antonio Public Library director Ramiro Salazar said. Salazar has worked alongside Bennett since he first became director in 2005.

“She’s an individual who cares,” Salazar said. “She leads from her heart, and I think that has helped tremendously in conveying to donors her passion and her commitment to helping support the library.”

Since Bennett has been with the San Antonio Public Library Foundation, the library system has either renovated or opened 11 libraries, she said.

“The opening of a new library is really exciting,” Bennett said. 

With her help, Salazar said, the foundation helped raise around $1 million for the Potranco Library, which opened in 2016. That money helped buy computers and bolster the features that San Antonio Public Library could offer to users, such as lockers that people could pick up books from if they checked out books after the location closed.

The co-located Potranco Branch Library and Mays Family YMCA at Potranco opened to great fanfare in 2016.

Bennett said she was proud of her role in bringing art from international creators to the Central Library for patrons to see, free of charge. She also watched over the start of the San Antonio Book Festival, which debuted in 2013. She’s still actively working on raising money to expand the Texana Genealogy department – which is the fundraising focus of the foundation’s Catrina Ball on Saturday.

The foundation has also already raised about $100,000 for the Texana Genealogy project, and has committed $500,000 to it, Salazar added.

Bennett will not be leaving her post until the end of the year in order to give the board enough time to search for her replacement, she said. The foundation board has already started the process with a four-person search committee, said Katy Flato, who sits on the foundation’s executive committee and chairs the San Antonio Book Festival board of directors.

Salazar said he hopes Bennett’s successor will bring a collaborative spirit to the job, like Bennett has fostered.

“You need a leader that believes in collaboration, that sees the work of the foundation and library as a partnership,” he said.

And while Bennett may be done with her role at the foundation, she’s not retiring completely, she said – she’ll be taking a short break, then going back to a few freelance projects. She’ll be spending most of her time in Rockport, but will still visit San Antonio occasionally, Bennett said.

She plans on working at the foundation in a volunteer capacity, at the very least, and would be happy to serve as a board member, if the foundation chose to nominate her. The foundation’s board is comprised of 69 members, according to its website. There are also 11 advisory board members and five library representatives.

But for now, Bennett is ready to see the sea at Rockport.

“There’s a library there,” she said. “I’ve already got my library card.”

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.