Libby O’Neill, Norfolk’s new library director, has been on board for five short months but already has big plans for the facility and its programs. Her focus will be on community outreach and promoting the library’s services.
Declining circulation numbers but increasing digital engagement means libraries must rethink their role in the community, believes O’Neill.
“It’s a challenge for all libraries,” said O’Neill. “We want people to use the library even if they are not coming in the door.”
To that end, O’Neill is encouraging people to fill out a survey coming out this month which will help the library and its trustees gather information for a 5-year strategic plan. The survey answers will provide a framework in which the library can gauge how to plan the services and programs the community would like to see implemented.
The new director held a series of Coffee with the Director sessions this past winter, inviting residents into the library to chat with her so that she could learn in person what programs people were interested in.
O’Neill also plans to reach out to residents directly, at town events. The library will have a table at Community Day (June 1), and hopefully at the farmers market on the town common. She’d also like to hand out library information at the summer Concerts on the Common series, which takes place right in the library’s backyard.
“I’ve always found that word of mouth is the best way to promote library services and poll people on what they want,” explained O’Neill.
And how about a beer with that book? O’Neill is starting a Young Adult book club—a popular genre for all ages—geared to adults, to be held at the Eagle Brook Saloon on the first Wednesday of every month. Currently three nights are planned (April 3, May 1, and June 5). People are asked to sign up online.
She has also implemented a Lego program for adults, noting “it engages the STEM part of our brains and why should the kids have all the fun?”
And in the fall, the library will host a community-wide Norfolk Reads. Residents can participate by reading Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a local author, who will speak at the library. Various activities centered around the book will also take place.
O’Neill is quick to point out that the Norfolk Public Library has always had a reputation for innovative programming, especially under former directors Robin Glasser and Sarina Bluhm. In fact, when the position came up, she was certain it would be a good fit.
“I knew it would be a very fun and creative place to work, a place where I could bring my ideas, too,” said O’Neill.
O’Neill was the director at the Marion Public Library before coming to Norfolk. In Marion, she started a book delivery service for elderly residents, partnering with the town’s Council on Aging and Meals on Wheels. She hopes to start a similar program in Norfolk, too.
Prior to her job in Marion, O’Neill was the youth and community outreach librarian at the Boston Public Library, a formative time in her career.
“The youth outreach position at the BPL made me the librarian I am today,” she said. “I learned it’s not about coming to work and staying in the building. It’s about bringing the library to the community. So my mind works in terms of getting out and trying to reach everyone as opposed to just sitting here and waiting for patrons to come to me.”
O’Neill grew up in Guilford, Connecticut. She spent a lot of time in libraries, where her mother worked in human resources. Still, she thought she’d become a teacher like her father, and majored in history as an undergraduate at the University of South Carolina. After realizing she did not want to teach after all, she got a job in the Yale University library system after graduating. She soon discovered her path and enrolled at Simmons College for her MLS degree.
“One of my mother’s librarian friends told me she knew I was going to become a librarian all along because I used to organize my books when I was little,” laughed O’Neill.
O’Neill, who lives in Mansfield with her husband and their two little boys (ages 2 and 4), acknowledges she doesn’t have as much time for reading as she’d like. When she can read, she has been prepping for the upcoming Young Adult book club by reading YA novels, and is also finishing up Educated by Tara Westover. Like her patrons, she doesn’t hesitate to dip into the digital side with audio books, too, which makes it easier to multitask during her busy days.
She says the community has been very welcoming, and encourages people to stop by her office to chat and get to know her. And don’t be surprised if you see her around town, reaching out to the community for input on the library.
“I’m always open to talk with people, and I love suggestions.”