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Emily Zervas is the new director of the Putney Public Library.

Town and Village

For the love of books

Emily Zervas, newly appointed director of the Putney Public Library, reflects on her influences

PUTNEY—Libraries have always been important to Emily Zervas, the newly appointed director of the Putney Public Library, who took up her duties in the first week of January.

“We were big library patrons,” she said of her family.

Growing up in Farmingdale, N.J., she had her own library card by age 8. Among her favorite childhood books were “The Saturdays” by Elizabeth Enright (the first in a series of four novels about the Melendy family) given to her by her aunt, and “The Indian in the Cupboard” by Lynne Reid Banks.

After high school, Zervas took a year off because, she said, she didn’t feel ready to attend college. Instead, she worked for an Internet company for a while. She traveled the country, visiting friends at their colleges. Her adventures included a visit with family in Denmark. By the time her gap year ended, she said she was “really ready” for college.

“It was a good experience to be out in the working world,” she told The Commons, adding she could have continued working without a college degree but wanted more options.

She earned her B.A. in photography and anthropology from Rutgers, where she had a work/study position in the library, digitizing photos of the immigrant experience at different periods in New Jersey.

“I saw librarians with totally different specialties,” she said, “and I realized what a flexible degree a Master of Library Science degree is.”

Thus inspired, Zervas earned her MLS from Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information, Library, and Information Science.

Then came the question of where to live.

“I had friends in Vermont and had visited,” she said. “Maybe it’s my naiveté, but I thought that if I found where I wanted to live, I’d find a job there,” she said.

That’s essentially how the story unfolded.

Zervas worked at the Mason Library of Keene State College as an adjunct archivist, three-quarter time, on a two-semester contract. Looking for a full-time position, she was hired as the reference and historical collections librarian at the Rockingham Free Public Library in Bellows Falls, a position she held for the past seven years. Her last day there was Dec. 19, 2014.

One of Zervas’s goals at RFPL was to stabilize the historical collection of photos, which she hoped to fund by writing grants.

“For example, we had a binder of original photos,” she said, “and a patron who wanted to make a copy would take a photo out of the binder and maybe take it to the print shop to be copied. Keeping track of the photos was difficult.”

In 2010 a Save America’s Treasures grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services allowed Zervas to stabilize the physical prints, scan all the photos, and produce high-quality duplicates that are in binders with accompanying information. Patrons who want copies can receive duplicates while the originals are in “archivally stable, climate-controlled enclosures,” Zervas said, “instead of in a box down near the radiator.”

In her archival work, Zervas relied greatly on the expertise of Carolyn Frisa, a member of the RFPL historical collections committee, and a professional paper conservator.

Zervas served RFPL as interim co-director during the period following the library board’s controversial firing and eventual reinstatement of the library director. As co-director, Zervas helped guide the move into the newly renovated library. She led brainstorming sessions with the staff, developing new policies and procedures, through which she discovered that she enjoys long-term planning.

As a result of her co-director experience, Zervas began to think about seeking a director’s position. Coincidentally, Steven Coronella, director of the Putney Public Library for the past decade and a half, decided to retire, and the Putney Library trustees initiated a search for his replacement.

According to a press release, the trustees received a large pool of applications from seven states. Frankie Knibb, one of PPL’s trustees, said many factors influenced their selection of Zervas.

“She is a very poised young woman with strong experience,” Knibb said. “She is really a part of the community and has been using the library for a number of years.”

Zervas said she is excited to become director of the Putney Library.

“Putney Library has a great team, a wonderful board, and an active and engaged patron base,” she said. “It’s a vital community resource. I’ll observe for a while. I want to hear what people love about the library, what they want, and what library services could be.”

Public libraries provide important public access to computers, the Internet, and other electronic resources. In Vermont this public access is especially important because of what Zervas calls the “digital divide, where some residents have access and others don’t.”

Since public libraries serve to bridge that gap, keeping up with the latest technology is an important aspect of service to the community.

At RFPL, Zervas said, patrons were bringing in their new digital tablets and asking for help, so the library bought tablets for the staff to use. Staff members individually watched professional development webinars, then came together to talk about the devices, “sort of like a book group.”

The technology question remains one of balance, Zervas said: of “how digital things can serve us, but not invade our lives.”

For her own reading, Zervas prefers non-fiction. Right now, she is reading “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco.

“It’s part graphic novel and was written at the time of the Occupy movement,” she said. “It was recommended to me by a patron. I’m reading it slowly. It’s really powerful; it speaks to everyone’s need for strong communities. That’s the uplifting message I extracted.”

For lighter fare, Zervas enjoys reading cookbooks.

“I love cookbook writing and travel writing,” she said, “and cookbooks contain both things.”

As she begins this new venture, Zervas said she will not be shy about calling on her mentors when she has questions.

“My first library mentors were [library director] Jerry Carbone and [reference librarian ] Jeanne Walsh at Brooks Memorial Library,” she said. “And [youth services librarian] Samantha Maskell at RFPL runs a really inspiring youth program. I’ll continue to consult her.”

Although Zervas will miss her RFPL colleagues, she said she looks forward to working with the PPL staff.

“It’s not about [my] leaving something,” she said; “it’s about going toward something great. The Putney staff knows the community so well. I have lots to learn from them.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #287 (Wednesday, January 7, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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