Library Tries New Leadership Approach

By Irene Racz

New directors Carolyn Brennan (left)
and Jessie Lynn. Photo courtesy of Tom McKone

The Kellogg-Hubbard Library’s new directors, having been appointed by a board of trustees willing to try an alternative management model, are hoping to carry that commitment to innovation forward when they assume the leadership in July.

Traditionally, the library has been overseen by a single executive director. But after outgoing leader Tom McKone steps down on June 30, he will be replaced by a team of two with a combined 13 years working at the library: Carolyn Brennan, who has run library services, and Jessie Lynn, who has managed finance and operations.

“When Tom announced in January that he was leaving, we thought of the co-director idea,” said Brennan. “Jessie and I were looking at the moving pieces we’re already involved with, and we thought a sustainable and sensible way would be the co-director model.” After considering other candidates and the pair’s proposal, the board ultimately agreed.

The Kellogg-Hubbard is among the state’s many public libraries. Whereas some are funded and managed by a single municipality, Kellogg-Hubbard is an independent nonprofit serving Montpelier and the five communities that make up the U-32 school district.

“Not everyone is aware [of our independent status],” said Lynn. “We don’t have municipal support for some things and have to do them in-house. For a small staff, it’s a challenge to manage both [library services and finances], which is where the duality of our roles comes in.”

Brennan noted that Kellogg-Hubbard has one of the highest utilization rates in the state, serving up to 700 patrons a day and lending out nearly 300,000 items a year, either physically or through digital downloads. “It’s a very busy and active organization, and maximizing the services we can offer is a continual challenge,” she said. “There’s always a drive to innovate.”

Brennan and Lynn said they will collaborate on certain things as co-directors but will also have clear lines of authority that mostly line up with their current responsibilities. Their collegial relationship is evident when they practically finish each other’s sentences while talking about their hopes for the library.

“On my end, as the nuts-and-bolts person, I will be looking at fundraising … and sustainability for the long-haul,” said Lynn. “We have an 1894 building and an addition that is 20 years old, [encompassing] 18,000 square feet. The cost of that is a challenge, and I want to get us to a very solid place.”

Added Brennan: “As the library services person, I need to look at collection development, digital offerings, and how we can expand and offer things in all of our member towns. I’ll look at what kinds of programs are useful and relevant to all of our patrons and how we can expand digital offerings so people can access the library when it isn’t open.”

“We’re both looking at the library’s relevance for future generations and bringing in multiple generations,” said Lynn.

Brennan concurred: “We want to reduce barriers to access, and make it … welcoming and useful. It was designed as a repository for books, but people want to come in and just exist or use the computer, sit quietly and be warm, geek out over whatever their passion is. We get tons of kids (after school hours), and we need to consider what their needs are and what we can do to meet the evolving needs of the community and their expectations for the space.”

Like libraries nationwide, Kellogg-Hubbard faces demands posed by an increasingly multicultural society and by clientele exhibiting challenging behaviors, but Lynn and Brennan are confident in their ability to respond.

“We have challenging behaviors, adults with mental health issues, homeless people who don’t know how to access the library in a constructive way,” said Brennan. “We have conversations first, but we have also had to call Washington County Mental Health or the police for support. We’ve never had a bad experience. The beauty is that you never really know what situation you’re going to walk into. There’s every age and every walk of life you can imagine. Ninety percent of the time it’s amazing, but there’s always management.”

Like many nonprofits, the library also has to contend with making sure there are enough resources to cover programming, staff, and upkeep. Both women said they are pleased with the level of support provided by member towns and are looking forward to building on that.

“We’re in transition, eager to meet a lot of people,” said Lynn. “Our goal is to get out into the communities and make sure we meet as many patrons and make as many connections as possible.”

 

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