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St. Paul Public Library Director Catherine Penkert is stepping down later this month after more than four years at the helm of the city's system.

In an email to library staff Tuesday, Penkert said she is resigning to spend more time with her two daughters. Barb Sporlein, St. Paul's deputy director for library operations, will take over as interim library director starting Sept. 17.

"It has truly been the honor of a lifetime to serve in this role, and especially to serve alongside you since March 2020 when our world turned upside down with COVID-19," Penkert wrote.

In an interview Tuesday, Penkert said leading the department through "a near-constant state of change and crisis" has taken a toll. "And at this time," she added, "the library is in a really strong position" because of a proposed budget increase from Mayor Melvin Carter, City Council support for the library's long-term vision and leadership within the department.

Beyond spending time with her children, "I will be exploring what's next," Penkert said.

Penkert started working for the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department in 2008, eventually leading the design of the city's Right Track youth internship program. She also worked in the city's Office of Financial Services before taking over as library director in 2018.

During Penkert's tenure, St. Paul Public Library eliminated late fees, developed an $18 million plan to upgrade facilities and launched and expanded various programs and services.

There have been challenges too, Penkert acknowledged, including a pandemic-fueled budget cut, staffing shortages and public safety concerns. Carter last month announced a proposal to spend $1.5 million of the city's federal American Rescue Plan dollars to assess how to improve safety and security throughout the library system.

"Everything that shows up in the community shows up in the libraries — so what that means is as communities evolve, libraries have to evolve," Penkert said.

Kamal Baker, Carter's press secretary, said the mayor will convene a community hiring panel to search for Penkert's replacement this fall.

"From eliminating late fines to embedding social workers in public libraries, our city has benefited greatly from director Penkert's visionary leadership," Carter said in a statement Tuesday. "I'm grateful for her service, and wish her well in her future endeavors."