Dave Della Terza, '04, Leads Naperville Public Library With Community-Minded Focus 
By Tony Scott


Dave Della Terza, '04, currently serves as executive director of the Naperville Public Library

Dave Della Terza, ’04, grew up with a love of reading, but he didn’t begin his career thinking that he’d one day be leading the second-largest public library district in Illinois.

Della Terza, the executive director of the Naperville Public Library, was born in Lakewood, New Jersey, and moved with his family to Naperville in the eighth grade. His dad was an insurance claims adjuster, and his mom did various jobs like working in the local schools to stay close to Della Terza and his brother and sister.

“I definitely grew up with a love for reading,” he said. “I fondly remember spending time at Lakewood Public Library and in my school libraries, checking out as many books as I could. Some of my favorites were the Encyclopedia Brown series and any book with a sarcastic sense of humor. Reading was a big part of my childhood because I’m naturally a very curious person who wants to learn as much as I can.”

While he did love reading, when Della Terza went off to college, he pursued his passion for television and film. He wanted an affordable school that had a media studies program. NIU was the perfect fit. He took out some loans, but also received an Honors scholarship and worked as a community advisor (CA) in the dorms which paid for his room and board.

“When I attended NIU, I really wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but one hobby that I really enjoyed at the time was creating videos,” he said. “Because of that, I majored in communication and media studies, and I planned on being an editor for TV and movies. I did get to do that shortly after graduating, when I moved to Los Angeles for two years.”

However, living in Los Angeles as a media professional was not where Della Terza's heart was, and living in that city was expensive, so he moved back to Illinois. He’s lived in Illinois ever since, living with his husband and their seven-year-old daughter in Bolingbrook.

“I’m the only member of my family who stayed in Illinois. Everyone else has moved somewhere else, but I really feel like this is home for me,” he said.

After moving back to Illinois, Della Terza took odd jobs like teaching video production at the College of DuPage, and happened upon a part-time job at the Naperville Public Library as a computer lab assistant. His degree from NIU helped him in the interview process, he said.

“I decided to apply to help pay the bills while I decided what I wanted to do next,” he said. “I didn’t think at all that it would turn into a career for me. I remember I actually got the job because the hiring manager at the time thought it would be great if I could help produce some videos of the library events, so my degree inadvertently ended up getting me into a job where I found my passion.”

Working at the library gave him a realization about what he wanted out of a job and a career.

“It clicked for me once I started working at the library that what I really wanted out of a job was the feeling of giving back and helping the community,” he said. “I never knew how important that would be to me, but it seemed so obvious once I was doing it. Over the next decade, I worked my way through many jobs at Naperville Public Library until I became the executive director in 2019.”
After many years away from NIU and the DeKalb area, Della Terza still has fond memories of his college days. For three years he lived in Douglas Hall—two of them as a CA. He lived his last semester in Grant North, he said.

“I loved going for walks at night on campus because it was so peaceful, and I would often ask people to tag along,” he said. “My favorite spots were the Indian and Thai restaurants, as well as anywhere I could get a chai latte to help me stay awake during evening classes. I made a lot of friends, especially over my first year on my dorm floor. I also got to meet a lot of great people as I advanced in the communication program.”

Della Terza cites a pair of professors as impactful mentors during his NIU experience.

“I very fondly remember Dr. Laura Vazquez and Dr. Gretchen Bisplinghoff—both of whom gave me great advice and inspired me to try new things and explore my interests,” he said. “They were both very impactful on me during my time at NIU. I was able to explore so much because I had professors that encouraged me to try new things and think differently. My favorite project was organizing a campus-wide Amazing Race TV show that I submitted as my senior capstone.”

His favorite part of his library job is “seeing how much the library impacts the community.”

“Libraries are wonderful institutions that provide equitable access to everyone and stand for intellectual freedom,” he said. “I also love that I get to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, and that I get to make sure our services reflect the broad diversity of the community.”

There are also challenges running an organization of 200 people, he said.

“It’s hard to stay on top of everything because we do so much and operate out of three locations,” he said. “I have to have a great leadership team because I can’t talk to every employee or customer on a regular basis. I rely on the managers I hire to do so much. So putting in place the right leaders to carry out our mission and vision is crucial. My job is to keep our goals cohesive, set a culture of service and teamwork, and make sure we continue on a good path.”

Della Terza encourages students at NIU to take advantage of every opportunity, and not to worry if they don’t know exactly what you want to do or if life takes them in a new direction.

“Almost everyone I know is doing something different than what they thought they’d be doing when they graduated,” he said. “But your degree helps put you on a path—even if the path is winding or goes in a direction you aren’t expecting. At 21 years old, I certainly didn’t picture myself where I’m at today, but I’m so happy with how things turned out.”