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New Chilmark Library director adds her delighted imprint
Ebba Hierta is one of the happiest librarians you're likely to find. Her smile and perky demeanor brighten the already sunny, spacious Chilmark Public Library.
Chilmark Library director Ebba Hierta. Photo by Jeremy W. Smith
"I hope people will come, talk, use their laptops," Ms. Hierta says. The library's wireless access is very popular, especially during the summer when the library bulges with seasonal residents and visitors.
Ms. Hierta recalls that on one rainy day in August, the library was so full that patrons were sitting on the floor using their laptops. Some nights, after library hours, people were sitting outside the library with their laptops aglow.
The library is always busy in summer, with dedicated summer patrons. At least half of the library's annual circulation comes in 12 weeks, Ms. Hierta says.
One of her biggest challenges is developing programs and the appropriate number of open hours for a town of about 875 year-round residents. Since the library is only one of Chilmark's three public gathering places open during the winter, it has become an important place for residents.
"It's a place to come and meet your neighbors in winter," Ms. Hierta says. "It's a very important facet of the community." Her vision for the library is that it be "a whole lot more than a repository of books.
"People come looking to be entertained, educated, and connected with the community. I get to help people meet their goals. There's nothing like a library's ability to affect people's lives. It's what I love the most.... Boy, do you get a people connection at the library."
Meeting people was also what Ms. Hierta liked most about her past career as a print journalist. She graduated from Old Dominion University in Virginia with a bachelor's degree in journalism and public relations. She worked as a reporter at the New London Day and the Norwich Bulletin in Connecticut, was a staff writer at Soundings, a boating magazine, and later did freelance magazine writing for National Parks Magazine and others. She developed a specialty in marine ecology and water issues.
After being seasonal visitors, she and her husband, Chuck Hodgkinson, bought a house on the Vineyard eight and a half years ago "to put down roots." They moved here permanently four and a half years ago.
When she came to the Island, Ms. Hierta wanted to work in the conservation field, but after getting a job at the West Tisbury Library, she says, "I knew within six months I didn't want to leave. I absolutely love the library."
She worked at West Tisbury Library for three years, leaving as assistant librarian. She says she was mentored well in West Tisbury. She did not need a library degree to get her Chilmark job, but she is taking the state certification program for non-degreed librarians.
Ms. Hierta also loves reading, books of course, and "tons of review journals" to help her select books for her library patrons. "It's exciting to recommend a book to someone," she says. "In a small place, you get to know people well." Ms. Hierta also has access to the rural library consortium online, but notes that Chilmark is not a typical rural town.
"Chilmark is unique, with highly educated, sophisticated readers, and they are very diverse," she says. "There are lots of good books. It's a challenge to get to know the community and what they read."
Ms. Hierta also is pleased with the library's relationship with the Chilmark School, directly behind the library. The proximity allows the students to come to the library every week during class time. Youth services librarian Kristin Maloney works with the teachers to develop programs that are relevant to the curriculum. Crafts and other programs are offered after school also.
"The kids are sophisticated library patrons," Ms. Hierta says. "They have a sense of ownership. This is their place."
Other programs on the library's varied menu include movies, lectures, and monthly art shows in the large meeting room.
The chefs series is very popular, Ms. Hierta says. This week's cooking demonstration and talk was by Island chefs and authors Philip and Shirley Craig. Even a program on skunks last summer drew 80 people. Open ocean aquaculture was the topic of last week's lecture.
"We do a wide range of programs," Ms. Hierta says, "from fun and frivolous to personal development."
Yesterday, Dec. 13, the library will host a holiday open house with refreshments, family crafts, and a big used book sale.
Most of the programs are sponsored by the Friends of the Library, who are very supportive of the library, as is the entire Chilmark community, Ms. Hierta says.
The library has recently standardized its opening time to 10:30 am, Monday through Wednesday, and Saturday. It opens Thursdays from 3:30 to 6:30 pm to accommodate students and others who may need the library in the evening. The library has three full-time staff members and one part-timer, as well as volunteers.
The library trustees are considering opening six days in the summer. Town residents can decide whether to approve the extended hours at the annual town meeting.
"The town is very generous to the library," Ms. Hierta says. "This community has been so welcoming to me."
At 51, Ms. Hierta says she hopes to stay put for a long time. "It's the perfect job in the perfect place. This is it."