The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 15, 1999


Getting to know new Gleason Library Director Ellen Rauch

The following is the seventh in a series of occasional articles designed to introduce residents, new as well as longtime, to the individuals who keep Carlisle running smoothlyour town officials.

Ellen Rauch, Gleason Public Library director since November, grew up in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Cressona, which she describes as small, smaller than Carlisle. To get to the library in the nearest town, it was necessary to take a bus, so Rauch didn't go to the library when she was young. Her mother was a great reader, and her grandmother told classic fairy tales to her grandchildren. As she tells it, Rauch grew up in an extended family of book lovers. In grade school, she became treasurer of the Scholastic Book Club, which she describes as "the beginning of her fiscal management of books."

After graduating from Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, and from Northeastern University in Boston with a graduate degree in English, and following a brief stint as a greeting card editor, Rauch attended Simmons College of Library and Information Science. She has spent the last five years consulting with other librarians, most recently as the assistant regional administrator for the Boston Regional Library System. Currently, she resides in Somerville, in an apartment she shares with two other professional women and two dogsa cocker spaniel and a miniature schnauzer.

What about the Carlisle position interested you?

I wanted to go back to direct public service. My work at the regional office was very satisfying because it was primarily providing service to librarians, and I think librarians are great. But I missed talking to patrons, I missed seeing kids. I think you can't get away from down-to-earth library service and still be a good consultant. You get a little rusty.

Were you also interested in the town of Carlisle?

I knew I didn't want to work in a large city. I have been the director of the Medford Public Library and the Chelmsford Public Library, and I knew that I liked a smaller town. I knew Peggy Hilton. She was one of my clients at the regional office. She would call me on occasion for information.

And how do you like it so far?

I'm having a good time. There's a lot to do. I like the fact that there's a learning curve for me to go back to doing direct service.

I believe you're the first library director who isn't a Carlisle resident. Is that a change that deserves comment?

Well, I know that this is of some concern because it has been mentioned to me a couple of times. I don't know what the search process was, so I can't tell you whether there were Carlisle residents interested in the position. Although it's more of a challenge for someone who comes from outside the town to learn quickly about [Carlisle] and how best to serve the residents, I think the skills of a librarian are fairly transferable. I grew up in a small town and understand that everyone-knows-everyone-else's comfort level. I'm confident that where it matters, in delivering library service, I can do a really good job. And my experience of the staff is that no matter where their hometowns are, they can deliver good service, too. It has been suggested that we wear nametags, which we're looking into, to see if people will feel more comfortable in knowing our names.

So far, what differences do you find in Carlisle compared with the role you played in Chelmsford?

The staff is much smaller here in Carlisle [only eight employees], and you are closer to the day-to-day operation of the library. I really enjoy this. In Chelmsford, my office was in the children's section of the library. Here in Carlisle, I see both parents and children; I feel more directly involved with the town. My job was mostly administrative in Chelmsford. This better balance gives me the chance to do the things I became a librarian to do.

Let's talk about the renovation project. What does it mean to you and the town?

Well, it certainly was one of the positive [aspects of the job] for me. I had worked on a building project in Chelmsford during the five years I was there, up to about the point where we are now in Carlisle. I spent a year in Denmark on a Rotary Fellowship in 1981-82, and most of my time there was spent studying library architecture. When I was a consultant at the regional office, I helped, I hope, a lot of librarians through [building] projects. The architects are working on construction documents and they're at about the 75- percent point. We've had opportunities to make changes and to get some feedback. I think it's a project that will make this building so much more efficient and effective. I've seen other projects like this result in a rise in circulation, as well as an ability to provide more quiet seating and larger collections. These projects, in Winchester, Bridgewater and Westford, for example, have been phenomenal, and I think that will happen here, too.

What do you think of the proposed design?

It's a gorgeous building and the design exploits its strengths. At first I had some questions about having the children's department on the second floor. It will mean a substantial amount of traffic because a lot of our business is children's, but I've come around to see what a wonderful space this will be. Marty Seneta, the children's librarian, [has suggested] window seats.

In what other ways will the building change?

There will be better integration of the space. The space is growing, but because we have such a limited footprint here, it's not growing hugely. The 1975 addition will be demolished, and the expanded area will [extend off] the back of the original 1895 building. [over two floors]. There will be an elevator for better access to all levels and there will be a raised ceiling on the first floor. We will net an additional 3800 square feet. There is also talk about improving the entrance area.

And what about the deadlines?

The deadline of March 10 of this year, by which time the town needs to have funded and be proceeding with the project, is being pushed a little bit. The consultant at the Board of Library Commissioners says that as long as we're making positive progress that we can [stretch it] some. The estimate for the construction project is nine months. So if we actually start [on May 20], we have a really good chance of finishing by June 2000.

How will you decide what to move to the temporary quarters that you will share with the Mosquito at the Carlisle Institute on Westford Street?

We've been talking with Rainbow Movers who have done a number of library-moving projects. They will come in early January and look at both spaces and decide what will fit. I expect we will move only a small part of the collection, and we will have to make some predictions about how much the collection will grow in the time that we are there.

So the library will be housed in the temporary location for about a year, during which time the public will not have access to this building?

That's right, so we have to plan pretty carefully what we will bring.

Changing the subject, what do you think the role of libraries will be in the next millennium? Will they continue to evolve, or do you see a profound change?

That's not an easy question to answer. Certainly a library like Gleason Public Library has such continuity in terms of its service to children, that what we can do to encourage children to read, to do research and acquire information, is never going to change. The resources have changed and do change. All the hype about the Internet aside, there are electronic resources that just were not available ten years ago. Libraries are, in some ways, like small businesses. They really need to concentrate on what's important, and they need to respond to what the community sees as most important. I've seen some libraries struggling with trying to be the library of the next millennium, when in fact, there are some basic services we are not wise to give up. There's so much in our history and our culture that's never going to exist electronically. I get nervous about the market-driven nature of publishing, that books and some other kinds of information that we need, will be less accessible.

What's the last good book you read?

Actually, now that I'm commuting [from Somerville] I've been listening to books on tape. I read a lot of southern Gothic novels. I recently reread something by T.R. Pearson called A Short History of a Small Place. The reason I read T.R. Pearson is he makes me laugh out loud.

And who are your favorite writers?

I read a real range of authorsIris Murdoch, Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Anita Brookner and Margaret Drabble, to name a few. I sometimes read Tom Clancy to take me away. In graduate school, my focus was on nineteenth-century authors such as Hardy, Dickens and Bronte´. I love to reread them now. These are the writers who inform my everyday life.

The staff

Rauch's transition to working with the public again has been made easier by her capable staff. Kay Edelberg, head of circulation, is a Carlisle resident who has worked at the library for 17 years. "She makes an all around contribution to services," explains Rauch. Edelberg participates in story-hour, works on displays and in reference. Jean Forman, also of Carlisle, is a 14-year employee working in circulation who is also well-versed in technical services. Shirley Pearlman of Chelmsford and Shoba Ramapriya of Billerica have each been at Gleason for four years, and each works in circulation. Martha Seneta, a two-year employee from Chelmsford, holds dual titles: assistant director and children's librarian. More recent hires are Margaret Bero of Pepperell, who for the past six months has been a part-time reference librarian, and Linda Dodge from Stow, circulation assistant for three months. Last, but certainly not least, is Paul Horne from Acton, who for the past 13 years has kept Gleason Public Library clean and inviting.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito