Saugerties Public Library welcomes new director

Jennifer Russell (photo by Dion Ogust)

Jennifer Russell has seen and developed programs in the libraries she has worked in before, and she hopes to introduce some of them at the Saugerties Public Library, where she was hired as the director and began work on August 24.

She’s taking over at a time when the library building remains closed to the public because of the coronavirus, though it will be open. She said it was not a bad time to be starting as director. “It’s a good time because there’s quiet time to learn the ropes,” she said.

The library is offering in-person browsing, working on computers and other library activities on a limited basis. People should call at least 24 hours ahead to make an appointment to spend a half-hour in the library. Appointments will be on the hour during curbside hours. Some people have already signed up. Call 246-4317 ext. 4.

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Library work was not Russell’s first choice. “When I got my undergraduate degree, I tried to be an artist for about 15 years, and in that time I had a lot of ‘survival’ jobs,” she said. “One thing I did do was assist in putting on the Hudson River Revival Festival. I’ve worked lots and lots of places, and done lots and lots of things. And then, finally, I said, I’m tired of being poor. So I thought about what I really enjoyed doing and started looking for careers where you do those sorts of thing. And libraries came up.”

She earned a master’s degree in information science the State University at Albany. While she has a variety of experience in libraries large and small, her position at the Saugerties library will be her first as the director.  “I’ve been working in libraries for eleven years,” she said.
The largest was the Corning Library in Steuben County, which had a budget of between $800,000 and $900,000 at the time she was there.  The Saugerties Public Library has a 2010 budget of $675,356 and a proposed budget for 2011 of $658,611, according to the library website. Most recently, Russell was the assistant director at the Esopus Library.

“My mother was a high-school English teacher, and a big, big reader. She instilled in both myself and my brother … [a love of reading],” she said. “Our summers were spent in the Finger Lakes, with sometimes not a lot to do, so oftentimes that gets you reading.” Summers in the Finger Lakes are, of course, about more than just reading time. “I’ve done a bit of water skiing in my time, and a lot of reading.”

Russell said she very much likes science fiction and fantasy, but includes history, children’s books, science … “a little bit of everything, really,” among her choices in reading. “I really like folklore, mythology, history, some sciences.” Reading in a wide variety of subjects and styles is helpful for a librarian, Russell said. 

While the library is closed, Shout Out Saugerties has been organizing programs for the grassy area behind the library, “and they will continue to do so until the weather turns.” The library is working with Shout Out.

“Our children’s librarian, Stephanie, is doing YouTube videos for story times, and people can watch them whenever they need to. There are also readings happening that are more performances. They’re more performances because when you’re outside with a large crew, not everyone is going to see that page, whereas YouTube videos they get really close and kids can see each page.”

While she chose steady work in libraries, Russell continues to work in the arts. “I do sculpture and painting. That’s very important to me.” While she does not bring her art work into the library, “I use the library as inspiration and reference for art work. There are wonderful ways to use the library for creativity. I would love to do a program, when we can, for adults. There are games that you can play, in the library, to spark creativity and discover new things.”

Russell sees the library as needing to develop a long-range plan. “They come up about every five years, so we need to begin thinking about that,” she said. “With a long-range plan we reach out to the community, to see what they think Saugerties needs in general. Then we can see how the library can help in creating the Saugerties of the future.”

The library’s mission is to create a robust and varied collection, for education and entertainment, as well as offer programming to educate, to entertain and to spark creativity.”

Russell talked about some of  the programs the library has done before the virus shut things down, art programs, local history programs, children’s and teens programs. “We had a Dungeons and Dragons group, all of our wonderful story times.” She will also be bringing in ideas from programs she has developed in other libraries, “tons and tons of them.” She cited astronomy programs, open mics, musicians and concerts; “I started that up; we actually had music lessons.” In the arts,  Russell has worked at offering drawing classes, pastels classes, plus some very practical classes for young people, such as how to apply to college, how to write checks, how to get a bank account, how to budget, how to buy a car and  more life skills.

 “One program I have always enjoyed is called “fan of fiction,” where we pick a genre, or a specific topic, such as Sherlock Holmes or Star Wars or something along those lines. We write a bibliography and we get the bibliography out to the people in advance, and then we all get together and we talk about that genre.”  

For example, one such program was based on the television series “Poldark.”   Participants got together, in costume and brought foods that were appropriate to that time, and talked about Cornwall, which is where the TV show was set. “We watched some video clips of the show, and we all got to sit down and eat together by candlelight and talk about the TV show,” Russell said. “What I like about that is when people are very invested in fiction or non-fiction, we are all very knowledgeable, we all have a lot of thoughts and opinions. Everyone is deeper than we give them credit for, so it’s great to give people the opportunity for, and the venue for people to share what they know and what they love.” 

At the Saugerties library, the theme for this summer was “imaginary worlds,” so people could make maps and invent languages. “That’s all very fun and exciting,” she said. “I’m very excited to meet the community and hopefully it will happen soon.

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