NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — On Friday this week when Library Director Cyndi Desrochers retires, she knows that one part of her legacy will be helping the library move further into the digital age.
But as she leaves through the library door, Susan Straub will enter to assume the director’s job in that library where she began her career in 22 years ago. She starts the new position Monday.
Both women said that it’s an exciting time in their lives, yet most importantly for the town, since the continued development of the library will remain the focus of work and planning.
Town Manager Ralph Mollis captured the transition bridged by connection and dedication to the libraries and the North Kingstown Free Library.
“It was a pleasure working with Cyndi,” he said. “She was an active part of our team, dedicated to the library and her experience during COVID was instrumental in continuing the library services our residents enjoy.”
Mollis also said, “I look forward to working with Susan. She begins with experience and her dedication and enthusiasm has been evident in the conversations I’ve had with her since the Board of Trustees hired her.”
“I look forward to her being an important part of an outstanding team of department heads and bringing the library to the next level during the years ahead,” he added.
Desrochers started her job in North Kingstown nine years ago after nearly two decades in the West Warwick Public Library.
Lori Vernon, chairwoman of the library’s Board of Trustees, praised Desrochers for her management style.
“One things I thought Cyndi did very well is that she allowed her staff to develop programs, whether it was the historical collection, children’s books or fiction section,” she said, adding that the outgoing director worked well with community groups, the trustees and the North Kingstown Town Council.
Part of Desrochers’s focus, as it has been with librarians across the country, was developing digital offerings in the library.
In a 2013 report, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that while many library patrons felt that print books remain important, they wanted to see libraries’ digital services expand.
The availability of free computers and internet access now rivals book lending and reference expertise as a vital service of libraries, the report said.
In its national survey of Americans ages 16 and older:
91 percent of Americans ages 16 and older said public libraries are important to their communities.
80 percent of Americans said borrowing books is a “very important” service libraries provide.
80 percent said reference librarians are a “very important” service of libraries.
77 percent said free access to computers and the internet is a “very important” service of libraries.
76 percent said libraries are important to them and their families. And libraries are touchpoints in their communities for the vast majority of Americans.
African-Americans and Hispanics, according to the study, find libraries are important to them and their families and important to their communities to access the internet at the library.
They also reported that internet access is a very important service libraries provide, especially to use library internet access to hunt/apply for jobs, and to visit libraries just to sit and read or study.
For almost all of the major library resources, African-Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely than whites to consider them “very important” to the community. That includes: reference librarians, free access to computers/internet, quiet study spaces, research resources, jobs and careers resources, free events, and free meeting spaces.
Desrochers said that offering more ebook selections, providing more digital access to computers and enhancing databases for research and other online offerings were a priority during her term.
“There’s so much that’s changing in libraries and in technology. I’m an older generation and I’ve had to embrace technology. You want to embrace as many services as you can, but you want to spend taxpayers money wisely,” said the 64-year-old Desrochers.
Straub, 50, who worked with Desrochers as deputy, said that she sees the same path important in her planning, too.
This follows the similar thoughts of Vernon, library Board of Trustees chairwoman.
“It’s a constant sell of it. People use other alternatives and we need to find ways to bring them back. We need to bridge the traditional library with new technology,” Vernon said.
Straub noted, “Once we get past the pandemic, I’m looking at a possibility of proposing renovations – bring out device stations, more meeting space and rooms, technology enhancements like bringing your phone to plug into a large computer.”
“Maybe this is a pie in the sky, but I always keep my eye out for new services,” she added.
Both said they see the library as a community gathering place and not just a repository of books, periodicals and information.
“Libraries today are also a huge community resource, a community gathering place, rooms to meet, and a place of discovery,” said Desrochers.
Like others across the country, the North Kingstown Free Library, wants people to discover life beyond information found only on paper, both librarians said.
They want to continue to develop it for being a go-to place for internet connections and hotspots, ebooks for reading online and on-the-go, computers for those who cannot afford one at home, but need one especially for applying for jobs or state services.
Straub is the former executive director of Ocean State Libraries, a consortium of libraries throughout the state, a job for which she left North Kingstown for a different experience.
However, it did not have the person-to-person service she liked so much and she’s looking forward to working once again with and for the people who use a library.
“I know North Kingstown, I know the people of North Kingstown really appreciate their library and I know the excellent staff we have there,” Straub said.
“I really wanted to work back in a library. I loved Ocean State, but you are not working directly with the patrons. I like that, I guess that is how I’m wired,” she said.