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Only connect: Departing libraries director reviews a decade

We bring people together for the purpose of finding connections."

Andrea Nicolay, library director, 2022Andrea Nicolay, library director

UPDATED June 29: The end of fines for overdue books is one of Andrea Nicolay’s proudest accomplishments in her 10 years at Arlington’s libraries, the last seven as director. Her final day is July 1, and then she will move on to become director of libraries in Albany, N.Y., a city with more than twice as many people as Arlington, with seven branches compared to the two here. It is a challenge she says she is more than ready to meet. 

Nicolay’s tenure has included circulation that reached an all-time high, an increase in library hours, a new strategic plan and programs that go beyond the purview of the traditional library: It has joined with Arlington’s social-service agencies to assist patrons in need of support and will add a program in the fall to help non-English speakers improve their language skills. In addition, the library will work with Lamplight, a nonprofit organization already in Arlington, to help people pass the test required to become certified nursing assistants.

For Nicolay, libraries fill a multitude of functions and are a major resource for a community, having long moved beyond merely being a place to check out a mystery novel. “We bring people together for the purpose of finding connections, whether making a new friend or having eyes opened to an issue you never thought about before. It’s a place of light and enlightenment.”

Libraries, she says, have always supplied access to information and entertainment, “and we do that at every level. We provide people with resources so they can understand issues better or learn a new skill. I think of them as being multifaceted scaffolding for civic good.”

Fines down, circulation up

Fines disappeared in February 2019. “It's one of the achievements I’m really proud of,” says Nicolay, from her second-floor office at Robbins Library, overlooking the lobby. “Doing away with fines helped create more access to the collections and removed the obstacles to using the library. That’s something that’s been a help to families, especially families with small children who take out tons of books at one time. We had already reduced fines for children's material but to do away with them altogether was a big move in the direction of equity.”

Nicolay says it’s impossible to measure, but library fines could be a reason for people to stop using the library. The move to eliminate them was made possible with strong support from the town manager who agreed that library fine contributions of 0.03 percent of annual revenue to the general fund was tiny, and becoming smaller because of a rise in interest in downloadable books.

“I was happy to have strong town support for making it possible. It’s very difficult to draw a line from point A to point B for cause and effect, but I can say that circulation has gone up since fines were eliminated.

As of May of this year, circulation of books and all the other items that people borrow from the library, such as museum passes and artwork, was 847,076. For the same period in 2019 -- before the pandemic -- it was 679,035.

Reaction to pandemic

“We were completely shut down on March 13, 2020, just like everybody else,” says Nicolay of the pandemic. But the staff went quickly into action so that patrons could take out materials through contactless pickup and reach reference librarians by telephone.

Since people could no longer browse amid the shelves, the library staff did it for them by filling a grab bag with a mix of books, videos or other objects.  “Every library in America had the same idea at the same time and we did it in a particularly robust way,” says Nicolay. The library created an online form that people could fill out with preferences for themselves or their children. “It allowed librarians to put together bags with customized materials while a lot of other libraries were just putting books in bags.”

Someone might request mysteries or romance novels and ask for a mix of books and DVDs. “People treated it like Christmas morning because you didn’t know what you would be getting; for kids it was a happy surprise.” The grab bags were so popular  they are continuing even though the library has reopened.  

Under Nicolay’s tenure the library joined with Arlington’s Social Services Network, which includes the Board of Health, the police department and the Housing Authority. Nicolay says there are times when patrons ask a question and staff realize more assistance is needed. Someone might come to the reference desk, for example, and ask about housing resources. During the conversation, the patron might reveal she has nowhere to live and the librarian can then direct the person to the appropriate services. All is done with strict confidentiality and the consent of the patron. The library began having social-worker hours once a month and because of the demand, added a second session. 

English Now

In August the library will offer an English conversation series through a program called English Now, and in the fall will provide a series of classes focusing on the skills that certified nursing assistants need to pass a qualifying test. Both programs will entail the use of volunteers and Nicolay says the Arlington community has many people who offer their time and energy. “I’ve always been impressed with how much volunteer energy there is in this town,” she said.

Nicolay will be sad to leave Arlington but is excited about her new challenge and the chance to live near family members who live in the Albany area.  “I’ve learned so many good lessons here about how a community can support a library and how a library can support a community, and I’ll be taking all those lessons with me,” she said. “This is a place where the community sees the library as an important resource. Understanding how to grow that attitude and foster that in a new place will be great.”

Director's farewell message

Happy Summer! This is my farewell message to you because my last day at Robbins Library is Friday, July 1. Anna Litten, current assistant director of libraries, will serve as acting director in the interim.

I'm moving to New York to be closer to family and start a new job as executive director of Albany Public Library, and while I look forward to a new challenge, I will truly miss the community of Arlington.

You are among the most library-obsessed communities in the Commonwealth (congratulations!!!). The hard proof is in our circulation statistics and program attendance. Our fiscal year ends on Thursday and even though the totals aren't in, we already know that FY22 is a record-breaking year for items borrowed. And on the first day of Summer Reading, over 350 kids, teens and grown-ups signed up!

I hope you'll continue to devour everything the library has to offer, and if you're so moved, try volunteering with one of our incredible support organizations. The Arlington Libraries Foundation in particular is actively seeking board members, and take it from me, they are a highly motivated, hardworking group of true library believers. It's been a joy to work with them and with the Friends during my time here.

Here's to great library memories!

Arlington seeks a new director of libraries

From Joan Roman, Town of Arlington

The Town of Arlington seeks a forward-thinking community leader to serve as director of libraries. This is an opportunity to play an integral role in advocating for and advancing public library services in a town where library use is strong, and getting stronger. Arlington’s libraries are currently on track for a record-breaking year of circulation—adding to an established track record as one of the top ten most heavily-used libraries in the Commonwealth. 

The mission of Arlington’s Libraries is to be a vital resource, creating opportunities for lifelong learning, meaningful connection, and discovery for all. Arlington is served by a library system consisting of the main Robbins Library in Arlington center and the Fox Branch Library in East Arlington. The Robbins Library and Fox Branch Library offer outstanding collections and services to meet the evolving interests and needs of Arlington, a diverse community of 44,000. 

The director administers an annual budget of approximately $3 million in public funds, grants from the library’s trust funds, Foundation, and Friends, plus annual state aid, and capital funds for large-scale projects.

The director is a town department head, reporting to the town manager, and works collaboratively with a seven-member appointed Board of Library Trustees to advance the library’s strategic long-range plan and manage policy, budget, and other governance matters. The most recent strategic plan was completed in 2022. The director supervises a dedicated, service-oriented team of 24 full-time staff, 14 part-time staff, hourly pages, and volunteers. Additionally, they work closely with non-profit support organizations including the Arlington Libraries Foundation and the Friends of the library. 

In 2017, library administration and trustees initiated a space study and design project, “Reimagining Our Libraries,” with the goal of creating a vision for the future. The result: a bold plan for the libraries that reconciles community-led vision and community-led values. The next Director will develop that vision and evolve it, examining and pursuing various avenues of funding. Since the library’s founding days in the 1890s, a mix of public and private funding has worked to make the library a pillar of support for families, students, and all who live and work in Arlington. 

Compensation, benefits

Salary is competitive at a range of $100,889-$145,788. Benefits include health and dental insurance options with Flexible Spending Account (FSA), paid vacation, holidays, an employer-sponsored, tax-favored 457(b) retirement savings account, professional development funds through the Library Board of Trustees and more.

The complete job description and the application link are available here >>

Arlington values diversity. People of color, people who are differently-abled, and other individuals from groups underrepresented in municipal government are strongly encouraged to apply.

To learn more about Arlington’s Libraries, visit robbinslibrary.org.


May 25, 2022: Libraries director leaving for Albany after nearly a decade

 


This news announcement was published Sunday, June 26, 2022, and updated June 29, to add farewell message.

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