On a typical day at the Norwich Public Library, Lucinda Walker might find herself checking in with the library staff, responding to patrons’ questions about how their phones work, listening to a student talk about her day at school, loaning out an energy meter, managing the library budget, buying the latest books and media for the library collection, greeting enthusiastic library volunteers, and considering an innovative idea for a new library activity from a patron. And we used to think a library was only about books!
Celebrating 20 years as the Director of the library, what Lucinda has come to appreciate most are the positive relationships with the people who come to the library not only to check out books and media, do research, or play in the backyard, but to enjoy the sense of community Lucinda and her team have created for Norwich residents and guests.
Lucinda credits the Norwich community for making the library the dynamic place that it is today, and is humble about her role in navigating the many changes in library services that have evolved over the two decades of her tenure. “I cannot believe it’s been 20 years. I feel so fortunate to be embraced by the community and the professionals and volunteers at the library. It’s so nice to go to work each day and be challenged and have an impact.”
Staying true to its mission to “…serve as a community center for the town providing traditional and innovative resources for all patrons and offering library experiences that support education, imagination, and community engagement,” Lucinda feels fortunate to have started working at the library when it had just been renovated. “With a brand new building, the community really embraced the library – it became the place to be after school. The community room was booked every night by local organizations, and still is. We went from a quiet library to a busy, vibrant community space.”
In fact, in 2020 the Library Journal designated the Norwich Public Library a ‘star library’, one of only three in Vermont, and 260 nationwide. The ranking is measured by circulation data, library and program visits, and public internet computer use. Lucinda notes, “We’ve been able to keep pace with trends, and the town has been amazing in its support.”
Stepping into the Director’s role in 2002, Lucinda followed Sylvia Fraser, the previous librarian, who oversaw the early library renovations. “Sylvia was a tremendous creator of collections. She applied for many grants that allowed for new shelves and additional staff for the library.” When Lucinda was hired, the Board supported her ideas for building on Sylvia’s efforts, and she was able to add a youth services assistant, fully staff the children’s area, and hire a programming person. “The additional staff meant we could expand children’s and adult programming. We also Increased the collection by buying DVDs, where we previously relied on donations, and expanded our audiobooks collection.”
Originally from Windsor, VT, Lucinda remembers talking with her high school guidance counselor about college. “He threw out the idea that I should become a librarian because I liked to read. I was incensed because the librarians I’d run into through most of my childhood were difficult people. They didn’t have much of a sense of humor, and didn’t really direct my reading.” Lucinda’s love of reading and research led to working in a library for a business newspaper in New York City. “This was the ’80s, before the internet, so you spent a lot of time at other libraries in Manhattan like the New York Public Library. I love untangling the puzzles I was given in that job.” Lucinda’s opinion of librarians took a 180 degree turn. “Librarians in college were amazing people.”
Lucinda earned a Master of Library Science at Long Island University and her library career was off and running with jobs at the Brooklyn Museum of Art Library and the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute Library. “The Mechanics Institute Library was a technical institute created after the gold rush to keep people in the city – that’s when I got my real love of working with people.”
After moving back to Vermont, Lucinda explored many of the libraries throughout the Upper Valley. “At the time, it seemed like librarians were staying forever. In all honesty, I wondered if I was seasoned enough. When the Norwich position opened, I visited the library to get a sense of the place. I went in on Saturday, and saw Lisa Milchman, who was wearing Tevas with wool socks. I immediately felt like these were my people and that this was the spot for me. I was delighted and astonished that I was hired.”
Many of the highlights of the past 20 years for Lucinda revolve around her interactions and relationships with people. “I’m wired to take risks in the library world, so when people come to me with a new idea, I like to help them achieve that idea. Being able to help shepherd people’s ideas forward makes the library a community-based institution.” Professionally, Lucinda has advanced her own creative ideas to improve communication and networking among librarians throughout Vermont. She co-founded the Green Mountain Library Consortium in 2007, which was successful in bringing the progressive notion of ebooks and audiobooks to Vermont. And, as of February 2020, the Norwich Library no longer charges fines for overdue items. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Fines are a huge barrier to access, and eliminating them helps ensure that everyone can have equal access to the library.”
Lucinda’s leadership style is one of collaboration and listening. “I do my best work with a collaborative leadership model. Today’s libraries are community centers, and we take care of people at their best and sometimes their worst. We learn to become empathic by hearing other people’s stories and the library has to be a place where that can happen.”
During the 2008 financial crisis, Lucinda heard stories from fellow librarians in the Vermont Library Association about patrons sharing their stories of financial hardship. “I created a presentation about librarians as social workers, because people are often sharing very intimate parts of their lives with us.” This has been true as society begins to emerge from the pandemic. “Many consider this time ‘The Great Unraveling.’ We’ve all been isolated, scared, and grief stricken, and people are unburdening. We need to take care of each other during this time. We want every action we have with a person to leave them feeling better.”
Lucinda is excited to return to the time when libraries are the community places where you can pick up your dry cleaning, CSA share, and access the food shelves. “We’re happy to hold things for people to come and pick up. We rent electric bikes. We host Kindergarten Clean Ups for Earth Day. Community members host meetings here and can use the library as a work space and get tech help. Our WiFi is available 24/7.” Lucinda believes libraries are only successful if the staff and volunteers are able to connect with people and track down what they need. Much of the librarian’s day is spent troubleshooting and problem solving.
Along with curiosity, perceptively reading situations that arise, and extreme multitasking, communication and collaboration are all in a day’s work for Lucinda Walker. “Word of mouth continues to expand the use of the library. I want to shout out to the fact that a successful library is a wonderful reflection of the community it’s serving. Norwich is filled with remarkable people, and the Friends’ group is pivotal. We’re only successful because of our relationships with other people.”