SCHENECTADY — Charity Thorne has come full circle.
The Rotterdam native has fond memories of visiting the Schenectady County Public Library system as a child, where she became captivated during the story time programs and fell in love with the fantasy genre.
Thorne, 34, would eventually jump start her career at the library, working to shelve items when she was just 16 before eventually moving on to the University at Albany, where she obtained a master’s degree in library information sciences. After graduating in 2009, Thorne would serve in various positions at libraries in Florida, Texas and Illinois, where she served as the executive director of the La Grange Public Library, just outside Chicago.
A desire to be around family had the mother of two begin searching for jobs on the East Coast earlier this year, where she stumbled upon a posting for director of library operations at the Schenectady County Public Library system.
Following a lengthy interview process, Thorne was officially appointed to the position by the Schenectady County Legislature earlier this month. She succeeds Karen Bradley, who retired earlier this year after a decades-long career with the library system, including 10 years as director.
“The first day I started to look at jobs on the East Coast, I saw this posting and it felt very serendipitous,” Thorne said. “It’s my hometown library and I can go back in a different role and kind of come full circle and be very close to my family.”
Just two weeks into her new position, Thorne said she is still acclimating to the new role, but already has her eyes on improving access to the library’s resources, which have grown significantly since she was a child. Thorne recently spoke with The Daily Gazette about her career, memories of the library and plans for the future.
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Q: What made you want to pursue library science?
A: It’s really very interesting. People tend to think, ‘Oh, libraries, you read books all day.’ No, you talk to people, you interact with people from every walk of life with every type of information needed. It’s never boring. You never know who’s going to walk through the door and what you might need to help them with. And then as I got a little further up into management and administration, you have to know facilities, you have to know IT, you have to know human resources. You do all of that and all the library specific stuff, so it’s always learning something new. I know more about Dreamtile systems and HVAC than I ever would have thought while going to library school, but for someone who loves to learn, it’s a very interesting field to be in. There’s always something new and libraries are constantly evolving, too. Even just the library specific stuff, you’re constantly having to learn something new, especially during the pandemic. Obviously, the way we served the public changed completely and some of that’s going to stick around for the long-term because people really embraced it, and some of it we’re reverting back to a little bit more normal operations.
Q: You mentioned some of the things from the pandemic are going to stick around. Can you elaborate on that? What are some of those things that are going to be here permanently moving forward?
A: I couldn’t say that I know enough about this library’s services in total yet to say, but just broadly speaking virtual programs. Prior to the pandemic, there wasn’t much engagement with virtual things but now it’s become the way where you can even have a hybrid programs where you can have a presenter here at the library, but maybe you’re livestreaming it for folks at home who can’t make it, or maybe you’re at capacity physically at the location. That’s been a big one. I know communities have embraced a lot more virtual references. People have been asking a lot more questions online and over the phone rather than just coming in and talking about it when they come to pick up their books or whatever else they might do. Virtual collections have grown, and investment in e-books and audiobooks. I think a lot of folks who might have been reluctant about trying that out prior to the pandemic were kind of forced to because that’s all they had access to. They discovered how great it is and are never going back. They’re like, ‘wow, it’s so easy to download the latest bestseller to my Kindle, my phone or my iPad.’ There’s a lot of benefits in terms of accessibility with those things, too. You can increase the font size for people who have difficulty seeing and things like that.
Q: You said there are a number of roles that libraries play in the community. Is there one that stands out?
A: In a lot of ways, we’re everything to everyone, but we provide access. We’re kind of trying to equalize access. A lot of folks can’t afford to buy books or e-books or the latest technology or have internet at home. But we are pivotal for people who can’t and in closing that divide and saying OK, maybe you can get online here, or try out that latest technology here, or maybe we check something out for you that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford for you to try it out. A lot of libraries are adding Wi-Fi hotspots or Roku and GoPros that you can circulate. So really, just providing that access to whatever people need, and it’s our job to be responsive to what the community needs at this time. Is it more books? More digital resources? More physical resources that we checkout that are nontraditional format?
Q: Obviously Schenectady County Public Libraries have undergone a significant number of changes in recent years, whether it was capital improvements, the opening of new branches and more recently the elimination of late fees. Is there something you’re hoping to accomplish or something you’re look at now to push things forward even further?
A: Our Rotterdam branch just closed for renovations. Their last open day was Saturday, so that’s another big branch makeover that’s happening that we’re excited about. But kind of along the lines of fine-free — going fine-free is about removing a barrier to access. People who need the library the most often can’t afford to pay penalties for not bringing things back on time. So, I would love to look at all our services and see where there are other barriers that might be keeping people from getting access to everything we offer and what can we do about those. Can we remove some other things? Is it really difficult to sign up for a library card? Sometimes you require very specific forms of ID that are kind of a barrier for folks who don’t necessarily have that. But all of our policies and services — looking at how can we be as inclusive and welcoming as possible because we’re spending all this money. The county legislature is funding us very generously to provide access, so we want to make sure that people are taking advantage of that access and that we’re making it as easy as possible for them to do that.
Q: Can you share your fondest memory of the Schenectady County Public Library system from your childhood?
A: Oh my gosh, there’s so many. One of the reasons that I knew I wanted to work at a library as soon as I was old enough is that my mother took us to libraries our whole childhood. I just finished touring all the branches today and I have memories of almost every one because we went to them all, not just Rotterdam. But I want to say it was at Wing Gate where I remember going to story time with Mrs. Gifford. She’s a legend — a children’s librarian who retired a few years ago but still comes back and subs for us, so it’s awesome to still see her around. It was just that excitement of having someone introduce you to books and stories and then being able to pick out your own books and take them home. That really stuck with me and I love that libraries are still around to offer that to kids these days and help encourage that lifelong love of reading.
Q: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask this: Do you have a favorite book?
A: Yes, “It’s the Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s fantasy. Some folks have compared it a more advanced “Harry Potter.” I am a big fantasy reader. That’s my favorite genre although I do like everything. I’ve always loved magical stories. They’re kind of the most exciting to me.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.
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