JAMESTOWN – When Judith Bell retired after 24 years as director of the Jamestown Philomenian Library, the ad for her replacement might just as well have read, Wanted: Legend in Training.
The woman who stepped forward to fill her shoes – and was chosen unanimously by the hiring committee and the library board – has had lots of small-town experience but is poised to guide the Jamestown facility into the modern electronic era of e-reading.
Raised in East Greenwich, South Kingstown resident Donna Fogarty graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in English and earned a master’s in library and information sciences from the University of Rhode Island.
She got her start as a volunteer in Windsor, Vermont, a typical New England small town. “After the director left, I was asked to take her place,” she recalls. “Windsor was a little smaller than Jamestown and very similar.”
She worked part-time for seven years before finding a full-time position as circulation supervisor and reference librarian for the South Kingstown Free Library in Peace Dale and Wakefield.
When the Jamestown job opened, Donna pounced.
“I had been looking at the job sites for quite awhile,” she says. “I was looking for a challenge.”
She’ll certainly get her wish.
“The challenge here will be in assisting this library to move forward with new technology while keeping one foot in tradition. That will involve basic, traditional services but, with the [bad] economy and high gas prices, we need to look at downloadable texts. You don’t even need to leave home.”
She says it’s possible to create audio books by downloading to a sound device such as an iPod or an MP3 player. To many traditionalists who like to hold and savor a book, these techniques sound like science fiction.
Another task Donna has identified is “utilizing space. The new technology will be a priority in the next couple of years.”
The Jamestown library has more than 5,000 members; foot traffic doubles in the summer tourist season.
“The off-season is very busy, too,” notes Donna. “We have lots of mothers and children at story hour. People come in to the use the computers; it’s very popular after school. We’re open on Sundays and the North Kingstown library is closed so some of [those patrons] come over here.”
She says the library’s circulation department processes 1,000 items every day.
Donna confesses she was not always a devoted reader, as are many in her profession. But she knows precisely when she fell in love with books.
“The turning point was after eighth grade. We were going on a family vacation to New Hampshire and my mother gave me The Catcher in the Rye [by J.D. Salinger],” she recalls. “I remember nothing about the camping trip; I just remembered The Catcher in the Rye. We came home and I couldn’t get enough to read.”
After she married and had kids, Donna detoured through children’s literature but got back on track. Stephen King, whose books she discovered in high school, is still a favorite.
At her desk, she has a coffee mug with the inscription, “So many books … so little time.” It has inspired her to be creative in finding reading time.
“I love to read so much I squeeze in a book when I’m on the treadmill by using electronic download. Right now I’m reading The Terror by Dan Simmons.”
Donna says the change libraries face in the future, is “exciting. We embrace it because it extends our scope.”
Martha Smith is an independent contractor for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .