May 28, 2022

Essex Library Has Many Patrons and a Wide Variety of Programs, but Faces a Substantial Debt to the Federal Government

Essex Library Director Richard Conroy in front the library and its ever full parking lot

The Essex library is a busy place. In the fiscal year that just ended, there were 63,000 visits to this small town library, to take out a book, read a newspaper, attend one of over 300 library programs, or even hang out for awhile. Essex Library Director Richard Conroy reports, “Attendance at library programs has doubled since 2008,” the year he became the director. However, for all this success, there is also a more sober story line about the Essex Library.

Essex Library Faces a Large Federal Debt

On its books the library has a large debt to a federal agency from a $2 million loan that it took out back in 2006. The monies that were borrowed at the time were used to fund the expansion and reconfiguration of the library building, which more than doubled the size of the library building from 4,000 to 9,500 square feet.

The present status of the loan is that the library still has $1.9 million to repay to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development fund, which made the loan to the library. The loan has a forty year term, which means that the repayment schedule stretches out to the year 2046.

Each year from now to then, the library must face a repayment burden. In fact in this year’s current library budget of $530,000, approximately twenty percent of it went towards repaying the federal loan.

Of course, the federal debt could be paid off sooner, if a generous donor came forward and repaid it all at once. However, there have been no indications so far that this is a possibility. Making the repayments even more uncomfortable is that earlier payments go more towards paying the interest on the loan, than paying off the principal.

Words of Praise for Past Library Directors

Obviously, the challenge of repaying the federal loan weighs heavily on the current library director. However, Conroy appears determined to make the best of it by being generous in his public comments about  two library directors that preceded him, Anne (“Boo”) Penniman and Bridget Quinn-Carey

In a recent interview he said, “I feel privileged to have had the base established for me by my predecessors, Anne “Boo” Penniman and Bridget Quinn Carey.” Of Penniman, who served as Library Director for eleven years from 1979 to 1990, he said, “Boo bought a new focus from a traditional library to a patron oriented environment. I am a very big fan of Boo,” he continued, “She brought the library into the modern era.”

As for Bridget Quinn-Carey, who was library director from 1999 to 2008, and who was in charge when the federal loan was taken out, Conroy said, “Bridget expanded on that base by doubling the size of the library building from 4,000 square feet to 9,500 square feet.”

The Quinn-Carey Years at the Essex Library

In a “History of the Library” in Essex that appears on the web, it is reported that when Quinn-Carey came on board as director, she, “immediately embarked on a mission to bring the library into the Computer Age.“ Also noted is that, “Under Quinn-Carey, circulation tripled to 56,000 and grew to more than 4,700 card holders.” In addition, “The need for library space became imperative and resulted in the very successful capital campaign … and the construction of the new wing behind the library on Grove Street.”

However, shortly after the expansion of the Essex library building was complete, Bridget Quinn-Carey left Essex for a new job as director the libraries of Buffalo and Erie County in New York State. Then a few years after that she became the Chief Operating Officer of the Queens Library, which has sixty branch libraries and has an annual budget of well over $100 million.

Since repayment of the federal loan was no longer Bridget Quinn-Carey’s responsibility, it was left to the new director, Richard Conway, to address it. However, he puts the best face on things, noting that,   “The building looks great and there are a large number of folks here day and night.”

Outstanding Community Support for Library

Conroy, who became Essex Library Director in 2008, also says, “The support that we get from the community is outstandingly positive.” One recent example he cites is in connection with funding of the newly planted entrance circle in front of the library. According to Conroy, “78 people contributed at least $40 each to upgrade the circle, and in less than three weeks, we had the monies to complete the project, without having to use any operating funds.”

The total cost for the upgrade of the entrance circle was $4,000, which, however, is a small amount when compared with library’s debt to the federal government.

As for the repayment of that loan, Conroy says, “We would love to have the onus of the loan gone, particularly since we are in a great spot right now.” For all the measured tone that Conroy uses in discussing the library’s outstanding debt, it must be his fervid dream to have the loan paid off.

The Future of the Essex Library

 Looking ahead, it is Conroy’s intent to make the Essex Library into “the default community center of the town.” Since tens of thousands of persons are already visiting the library each year, this could well be an attainable goal.

Conroy cites three factors that favor the continued success of the library. They are: “We have a great library building, we have an outstanding library staff, and, we have strong community support for the library, and now we are looking towards the future.”

To help map out that future, Conroy says, “We have begun the process of developing a new strategic plan for the Essex Library and expect to hire an outside consultant to assist with the creation of that plan.”

Director Says He Has A “Dream Job”

“This a dream job for me,” Conroy says, and, “If there were not challenges, it would not be so interesting.” As part of the new strategic plan Conroy mentions four elements.

Essex Library Director Richard Conway takes a turn at the Main Desk

They are: (1) upgrading the library’s present collection of e-books, (2) encouraging greater use of the library’s technologies, such as the website, (3) redesigning the library’s present web site, and (4) continuing to find ways to make its programs for adults and young people even more relevant to our patrons’ needs. With these  in place, Conroy anticipates that, “going forward, the community of Essex will be very supportive.”                       

“Money is important in maintaining a high quality staff,” Conroy says, and presently, the library has eight staff members, with only the director being full time.  The job of the library staff is, in Conroy’s words, “to foster an open, patron friendly, library.”

Ann Thompson, Head of Adult Services

The Head of Adult Services at the library is Ann Thompson. Among her responsibilities, she prepares a monthly email newsletter called “Librar-E-Lations. The newsletter features a listing of upcoming library events and the meeting schedules of the library’s five book clubs that range in themes from American History to the plays of Shakespeare. Also, in the newsletter is a monthly message from the library director, a listing of the new books acquired by the library, and a general review of library services.

Also, Thompson, who possesses considerable computer skills, runs a “Book-A-Libdrarian” program, which offers one-on-one computer tutoring to members of the library.

Jessica Branciforte Head of Children’s Services

The Head of Children’s Services at the Essex Library is Jessica Branciforte. She holds a teaching degree in Elementary Education from Central Connecticut State University and has completed her studies for a Masters Degree in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State University.

Head of Children’s Services Jessica Branciford at the library

Ms Branciforte is well aware that almost half of the library’s daily visitors are young people. She sums up her job as, “about helping young readers find the book that suits them.” Her job is also about, “helping hesitant readers to learn to embrace the love of reading.”  She works with children from “babies to young adults.” “My job is really about encouraging literacy of young people, and finding out what will trigger it,” she says.

Jenny Tripp, Programming Librarian

Also, a member of the library staff is Programming Librarian Jenny Tripp. Ebullient and full of excitement about the programs that she puts together, Tripp arranges well over 300 library programs every year.

Jenny Tripp checking out a book for a patron at the Main Desk

One of the most successful of her recent programs was about “How to Raise Chickens.”  The topic was so popular that Tripp had to put on three separate programs on the same theme. Even then, some chicken lovers had to be turned away, because the standing room crowds totally filled the library’s program room.

Future programs at the library include, “Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer,” conducted by a forensic psychologist, as well as a series of programs on scientific topics, funded by a local business man.

The programs in this series will include: a review of recent discoveries on the planet Mars by the Mars Rover, a report on recent pharmaceutical discoveries that address human health problems, and a program on artificial intelligence devices that are now close to replicating the intelligence of the human brain.

A seven veteran of working at the library, Tripp says that she finds the current director, “easy to work with.”

As for the library’s services to Essex’s senior community, Boo Penniman, says that Library Director Conroy, “has fostered a great relationship with the residents of Essex Meadows. He comes to the Meadows to discuss books at least once a month, except in the summer.” Also, “when a resident of the Meadows wants to borrow a book from the library, it comes in a whiz,” she says.

In sum, things appear to be going very well at the Essex Library, even in the face of having to repay over the next 40 years a loan from the federal government.