BRATTLEBORO—It was a quiet afternoon at the Brooks Memorial Library. Retiring director Jerry Carbone and incoming director Starr LaTronica were standing on the main floor sharing a gentle collegial joke.
When it appeared that a quieter space was needed for an interview, Carbone took out the key to his office, bowed and presented it to LaTronica in a mock-officious fashion, saying, “Here’s the key to YOUR office. It’s YOURS now.”
In such small ways are the community’s vitally important transitions made.
LaTronica, 61, lives up to her unusual name by being light, bright and palpably electric. She’s vibrant and vital. She laughs easily. On this day she was wearing a shirt with stars embroidered on it — a not-so-subtle touch.
And yes, there’s a story behind her unusual name.
“Mother had a completely different name for me,” LaTronica said. “But while mother was still under medication from the birth, my father filled out the forms and named me Marina Starr. It comes from this horrible sordid murder that he read about in, of all places, the Police Gazette. The woman who was murdered was named Starr Faithful.”
But the family name was Salinas, and by the time her father got home he realized he couldn’t call his daughter Marina Salinas.
“So they’ve called me Starr from the day I was born,” LaTronica said. “Then I married into the LaTronica part, which is pretty awesome. And then I had twin daughters and there was a big push for me to name them Monica and Veronica LaTronica, but I couldn’t — they have enough to complain about.
“But I’d be a completely different person if I’d had a different name. With this name, I couldn’t have been shy, which is my nature. Because my name is Starr LaTronica, I have to go forward. Like Brattleboro, there’s only one.”
LaTronica comes to Brattleboro from Binghamton, N.Y., with a national reputation. She’s just finished a long and successful 20-year career in upstate New York as the head librarian for a system encompassing 42 member libraries — some urban and some serving small communities of only 500 or 600 people — which spans a four-county area.
“It’s an administrative organization,” LaTronica said. “We work with the member libraries so they can best serve their clientele. It’s a real range of expertise and resources, which I love. I love variety, which is one of the reasons I love being a librarian — there’s so much to do.”
She also ran the bookmobile, which gave her a chance to serve the public directly — something she is looking forward to doing more of in Brattleboro.
“That’s why I’m so excited about being here,” LaTronica said. “I won’t have to dissipate my energies so much over a four-county range.”
The Brattleboro community may be surprised to know that its library is LaTronica’s dream job — and has been so for decades.
“My husband came to Brattleboro about 40 years ago and absolutely loved it,” LaTronica said. “He kept saying, ‘Where we should really live is Brattleboro.’
“And after we settled in Binghamton, we started coming here and I loved it too. We’d have our anniversary in February at the Latchis Hotel during winter carnival. Then we discovered the literary festival and we had to come for that, too. I’d tell people over the years, ‘That’s our dream. Some day we’re moving to Brattleboro.’”
Keep saying something long enough and it eventually might come true. LaTronica was giving the keynote address at a library convention in New Hampshire when she once again repeated her mantra about living in Brattleboro. And when Carbone announced his retirement, a New Hampshire friend sent her the job announcement.
“Otherwise I would have missed it because I wasn’t looking for a job,” LaTronica said. “But with librarians, information is our business.”
The LaTronicas started coming more often to suss out the place.
“We were camping in Dummerston, we were staying in hotels on Putney Road, and we were really spending a lot of time here,” LaTronica said.
“Now that our dream was on the brink of coming true, we were making sure is this what we really want. We spent a lot of time talking to people in the community. I would ask what they think about the library, and the worst thing anybody said to me was, ‘I really should go more.’ That’s the highest praise I can imagine. I thought, ‘Wow! How lucky to come into a library that has such community support and goodwill. It’s unusual.”
LaTronica and her husband, who is a builder and home restorer, are now “thrilled” to be moving to Brattleboro. Her three children — a boy, 26, and twin daughters who are 22 — are happy for them as well.
“My kids are happy that we’re moving here so they can stop listening to us talk about moving here some day,” LaTronica said. “My daughter said, ‘I’m so proud of you because I know it’s what you wanted for so long.’”
Town Manager Peter Elwell said he was “excited” to have LaTronica “join the management in town and take on the leadership of Brooks.”
“This is based not only on her long and successful career in public libraries, but also the particular strengths she brings and her engagement with the community she served,” Elwell said. “We are looking forward to her playing a similar role here in Brattleboro. Starr will be a great asset not only to the library but to the broader Brattleboro community.”
Libraries have changed over the course of LaTronica’s career — they’re not your father’s library anymore. Once upon a time, information came from books, and libraries were the repositories of books.
Now, information comes from everywhere — from books to computer screens to television screens in airports to phones to watches. This has opened up libraries and turned them into community centers.
“Libraries have grown,” LaTronica said. “For culture, for entertainment, for education, for information. I went to the University of California at Berkeley and I remember combing through dark and dank used bookstores. And now you can track down any book you want on the Internet. People have become stronger, better readers because they can go after the books they’re really interested in.”
LaTronica’s basic philosophy is that libraries are for sharing resources.
“We think libraries are about books, but it’s also about programming and social and cultural opportunities,” she said. “We have all these community resources. We can get almost any book by interlibrary loan. People in small towns can access these fabulous international movies through the library at any time. Kids can interact with their favorite authors on Web sites.”
LaTronica thinks she has the best job in the world.
“I know people who would say, ‘I should have practiced harder. I could have been a rock musician. I should have practiced harder because I could have been a baseball player,’” she said. “Whenever I hear that, I think, ‘There is nothing I would rather be than a librarian.’ I feel so lucky I found my calling. And that I belong to such a dynamic profession that continues to grow and evolve.”