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A Day in the Life of Five Librarians, Part 8
by
Posted On April 5, 2022
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The Dynamic Duo of Burlington, Parts 1 and 2

Mary Danko and Emer Pond FeeneyOne thing blew me away during my Zoom interview with Mary Danko and Emer Pond Feeney, the dynamic duo leading Vermont’s largest public library, the Fletcher Free Library, in the extremely wonderful town of Burlington. It was how well Mary (the library’s director, on the left in the photo) and Emer (assistant director, on the right) complemented each other.

GIVE ME AN OVERVIEW OF LIFE AT THE FLETCHER FREE LIBRARY.

Emer: The Fletcher Free Library is a beloved institution in Burlington, a small city known for citizens who appreciate curiosity, literacy, education, and equal access to information, so we have always been in a pretty good place as far as the enthusiasm of our community goes.

Mary: Our library always focuses on the patron experience. We constantly work to improve the services and resources we offer the community. We are also more and more focused on being agile and innovative. Working here means that things are always changing—in an exciting way! We love to pilot new programs and projects based on our community’s needs and then to keep improving them. Or, sometimes, we have to nix them if they just don’t work. But we never see these as failures; rather, we look at what we’ve learned and grow from there.

POST-COVID, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR CHALLENGES ARE IN RECONNECTING TO YOUR COMMUNITY?

Mary: We’re finding that the community is so appreciative of all that we’ve done. I think they recognize that we’ve done our best to follow the science and adapt our services based on that. I think one of our big challenges moving forward is how to effectively put on hybrid (in-person and virtual) programming. We saw older folks participating in book discussions who might not have come to an in-person program because they don’t like to drive in the dark or in bad weather. We also saw families attend our virtual storytimes, and they found them convenient because they didn’t have to bundle up kids and bring them to the library. However, we know that folks like to come to the library for programming too. We are working to figure out which programs make sense for a hybrid offering and how we can do that best.

WHAT ARE SOME TIPS YOU CAN OFFER OTHER DIRECTOR-ASSISTANT DIRECTOR TEAMS OUT THERE?

Emer: Mary and I are well-matched as a director-assistant director team, probably more than most. I think we have deeply held shared values of public service and earnestly believe in trying to make the world a better place for everyone, a task we think libraries are uniquely suited to. We were both pretty scrappy and invented our lives as librarians through some personal challenges and raising children, as well, so there are some similar life experiences informing how we look at the world.

We bounce ideas off each other, check to make sure we phrased things correctly in an email on sensitive topics, get feedback on a managerial point of ethics, that kind of thing. We also do a lot of strategizing, which we both love. My biggest tip for other admin teams is to focus on the why of what you are doing and let that be the thing that connects you as a team and informs your decision making together. Also, create robust networks outside of your admin team to support you so that you don’t have to over-depend on each other, similar to how you would support a marriage or other important partnership.

TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE INNOVATIONS YOU’VE SEEN YOUR STAFF COME UP WITH THAT YOU’RE REALLY PROUD OF.

Mary: Early on in the pandemic, when we had to close our doors, we put our giant stuffed bear in the front window along with some smaller stuffed animals. This had become a thing in the U.S., that when parents took their children on walks in the neighborhoods, they could look out for stuffed animals in the windows. When we came back, we offered limited services, and we kept patron visits very transactional. So, we continued to focus on making our huge front windows fun and interesting. For example, our communications and development manager organized a window scavenger hunt throughout the city, and the library had the world’s largest sticker ball on display, which connected with one of the clues. And our teen librarian moved our 3D printer to the front window so folks could watch it in action. Every department thought about how they could make that outside space engaging.

Emer: My favorite innovations have to do with outreach; breaking out of the idea of the library (a room filled with bookshelves that you visit) and focusing on what we do and then getting out there and doing it. We aim to increase literacy, access, and knowledge, to enrich people’s lives and strengthen our community and its future potential, and we can do that anywhere. This past summer, our team of eight interns visited food distribution sites across Burlington multiple times a week and did literacy games and other fun activities with kids from all backgrounds. It was nothing short of revolutionary in terms of what it taught us about how to succeed in the future.


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Justin Hoenke is a human being and a librarian. He’s worked in public libraries in the U.S. and New Zealand. His professional interests include creativity, youth services, public libraries as community centers, and music. He offers library consultancy services for public libraries and can be contacted at justinthelibrarian.com.

Related Articles

1/9/2018A Day in the Life of Five Librarians, Part 1
9/11/2018A Day in the Life of Five Librarians, Part 2
4/2/2019A Day in the Life of Five Librarians, Part 3
11/5/2019A Day in the Life of Five Librarians, Part 4
4/7/2020A Day in the Life of Five Librarians, Part 5
10/6/2020A Day in the Life of Five Librarians, Part 6
9/1/2022A Day in the Life of Five Librarians, Part 9


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