By Aaron Retherford
Anyone who has passed by the Aldrich Public Library recently has noticed it is undergoing a facelift, featuring newly painted exterior trim, and the installation last week of a granite statue of Charles Dickens’ beloved character Mr. Pickwick and a new bike rack, carved by Giuliano Cecchinelli Sr. and his son Giuliano Cecchinelli II, respectively.
But since the beginning of July, Sarah Costa has been the new face of the 107-year-old library, taking over for retired Karen Lane, who was the library’s director for 25 years.
It wasn’t an expected career progression for Costa though.
Costa, while working toward a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, didn’t picture herself as a director of a library like the Aldrich. Initially, she expected to become a rare book librarian. However, that view changed over the years.
“I’m also very committed to community development. I feel that libraries are essential part of the fabric of a community and have a real role to play in improving the lives of everyone in the community,” she said. “As soon as I really started embedding myself into the community, I started seeing ways the library could be engaging with the community in new ways. It turned out to be a good fit even though I stumbled into it unexpectedly.”
Costa wants to reintroduce the community to the library, so everyone knows it’s much more than just a building filled with books. She describes libraries as a kind of community living room, where people can pursue whatever they’re interested in and passionate about. They can even do it from the comfort of their own living rooms by borrowing eBooks online.
“The library is there to engage with you where you are and get you to where you want to be. That’s really powerful,” Costa said. “I want to be partners with our community.”
That couldn’t be any more evident than by participating in the library’s special programs.
The library’s mission statement is to inspire the joy of reading, promote lifelong learning, and strengthen community.
The Aldrich is inspiring the joy of reading mainly through its story times. But these aren’t just any story times. Children’s librarian Ian Gauthier welcomes community members who teach the kids about different aspects of life. A yoga instructing parent demonstrated several yoga stretches during story time. A sheep farmer demonstrated spinning and the kids brought home some wool after learning about how wool is made and then turned into the clothing they wear. At a pizza event, kids learned about all the ingredients that go into pizza. Then Ladder 1 Grill brought in some surprise pizzas to the group for the kids to enjoy. Last year around November, a group of Nicaraguan dancers visited the library and the children discovered what it’s like to grow up in Nicaragua and learned some songs and dances.
“It’s bringing the community into the library, but it’s the reverse as well. The library is not just a building. It’s the library actually going out into the community,” Gauthier said.
One perfect example of that was a recent special story time held in the Barre Town Forest. Gauthier, a trained bagpiper, led the group up a trail into the forest for a Little Red Riding Hood themed story time while playing the bagpipes.
Gauthier said he also does story hours at Head Start and a little bit with the Farmers Market because the goal is to bring the library to the people as well.
One event that will certainly be popular is the Harry Potter Party on Saturday, complete with a story time, crafts, games, a dementor piñata, and a viewing of the first Harry Potter movie for younger children. From 4-9 p.m., those ages 12 and up can participate in a Mini Library Lock-In, with games, a sorting hat, and more Harry Potter movies.
While directing the Calef Memorial Library in Washington, Costa was hired at Aldrich to head up a pilot program geared toward young adult services. After a year, the position expanded and Costa took over more of the social media responsibilities to grow the library’s online presence.
She knew it was important to increase services to young adults, but the library isn’t ignoring the needs of adults. A Living and Learning series allows adults to learn new skills such as: wild mushroom foraging, felting, bookbinding, and basket weaving.
Costa said she plans to go out into the community and find out what information the community needs. She wants to include enough diversity in the library’s programs to bring in people who might not otherwise be coming to the library, and that could start with new partnerships with schools, scouting groups or other established organizations.
“There might be some interesting new programs coming out in the next year or so,” Costa said. “It’s so wonderful to be part of a community that has so many great institutions already here and so many organizations doing wonderful work in the community. My learning curve is just trying to meet everybody and find out who is doing what and how we can support them.”
For more information on the programs offered at the Aldrich Public Library, visit its website at https://www.aldrichpubliclibrary.org/