What is a library director? When I was a very young girl I thought a director was the person who read the most books, EVER. A little later in life, I presumed directors had advanced degrees in classic literature. When I began working at the public library, I learned about degrees in information science. And I received an education on what a director really does for their library.
My library’s director, Ms. Joan Prescott, has been the director of Rogers Free Library for thirty years. That is almost my entire lifetime. During my childhood, our library was tiny and there was only one entrance. Everyone entered through the front door and passed right by her office. I always wondered how she ever got any work done because she was always greeting people with smiles and inquiring about their school work or family. I distinctly remember the glow of her green lamp illuminating her face (she hardly ever had any bright lights on in her office). It was like looking at a painting, really.
I remember when the director interviewed me for a part time position at the library. It was the most casual interview I have ever had. It was as if she had already made up her mind long before I came in. Ms. Prescott has a knack for knowing people and I guess she saw my potential right away. I thought perhaps my frequent visits to the library and timely book returns may have swayed her, alas, that was not it.
I loved working at the library. I worked only eight hours a week after dinner. All I did was put books on the shelf. I remember how tightly packed everything was. The collection certainly outgrew the space. I felt so badly about it. I remember the contrast between the old built-in bookshelves and the cheap wire racks they had to buy to accommodate the growing collection. I always walked around with my arms tucked in by my side for fear of knocking something over. I never bothered pushing the shelving cart around, because if I hit one thing, it would be a real domino effect.
While I was busy putting books away, the director was working behind the scenes getting approval for a building expansion. It took years and years. I remember the year the library expansion made the local ballot because it was the first year I could vote. I was absolutely thrilled to color in that circle!! Little did I know how much work it would be to get a new library.
The years 2007 and 2008 were a whirlwind for me, so I cannot imagine my director was able to get any sleep during that time. Even though she was in charge of all things on paper, she was still on the frontlines with us, moving books or furniture and helping keep things in order. I thought that was pretty darn awesome. At this time I asked if she would consider hiring me full time once the new building was open. I hoped and prayed she would. She did. That moment changed my life forever.
I remember watching Ms. Prescott and the assistant director unlock the doors of the new building in September 2008. I was taking pictures and wondering how they felt. I wonder if they were thinking about endless meetings with the Board of trustees, Town officials, and lots of strong words from the public (both for and against the renovation). I wonder if they forgot all the times they had to meet with construction crews and all the fights they had to make sure the building was functional over fashionable. That fight included keeping the administrative offices in the public area of the building, and not behind the scenes. The director believed they should be accessible to the public.
This year is my thirteenth year at the library. I remember where I started – just those eight hours putting books away, trying not to knock anything over. Now, I have a lot of responsibility on my plate – marketing, communications, and technology. Some days I sink into bed completely exhausted. Gone are the days where I could walk just a few paces across the building. Now the facility is so huge that I spend a good chunk of my day running up and down stairs and in and out of buildings. I often think of the director when I do. Over the years she’s watched me grow and has assigned these duties to me because she knew I could do them (even though some days I thought I couldn’t). And that is a sign of a good leader.
Ms. Prescott announced her retirement during the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish we could have had a proper sendoff, but it is hard with social distancing and all things COVID. I put together a video tribute, which was shown at her party. It doesn’t even do her career justice.
I cannot imagine another director in charge of our library. It will be a new journey for all of us. I look forward to the adventure, but will never forget Joan Prescott.