New head librarian's arrival among changes at Salem library

Salem - In the middle of the busy summer reading season, the Salem Free Library is preparing for changes.

The results of a survey of library patrons were published on July 3 and provided positive feedback from the community, as well as opportunities for improvement.

Some such changes the library is already working toward, starting with the hiring of a new head librarian, Rachel Gaither, who will begin Aug. 1. The library board of directors narrowed down a field of fifteen candidates before selecting Gaither, who the board said "emerged as a clear choice."

Gaither has more than 14 years of experience working in libraries and holds master's degrees in both library science and business administration, according to First Selectman Kevin Lyden. She has experience working in both public and academic libraries, according to the Carl Nawraki, chairman of the Friends of Salem Free Library.

"After a while, it's good to have a fresh set of eyes looking at things," said Nawraki, who believes Gaither will bring new ideas and an understanding of the importance of technology to the library. The Friends will hold a meet and great for the new librarian on Aug. 14.

"I see the library as continuing to be a major community resource for the town," said library board Chairman Leonard Giambra. "There were over 300 programs presented at the library last year."

Lyden called the facility a "combination library and community center" and said that it has maintained its levels and standards of services and "has not in any way slacked off" in the gap between head librarians.

"I think things have been going smoothly," said technical manager and interim head librarian Pat Aldrich. "We don't want it to negatively affect our patrons."

In fact, Aldrich said, certain programs have been more popular than ever. "We've been very busy," she said. "Our children's programs are filled and we actually added a whole batch more programs because they had filled so quickly."

While children's programs remain active, the recently released results of the library survey, which was completed before former head librarian Jackie Hemond resigned, show general contentment with the library, but also an interest in increased programs for adults.

Ninety percent of the 350 survey responses stated that they agree or strongly agree that the library is clean and comfortable; the staff is available, courteous, knowledgeable and helpful; the parking is easy; and they usually find what they are looking for. Still, 56 percent of respondents expressed interest in seeing more programs for adults, and "significant minorities" expressing interest in increased reading material for adults, an improved collection of e-books, audio books and DVDs for adults, as well a 10 a.m. opening time Monday through Friday and the addition of a children's section manager to the staff.

One change already being made is the addition of an automated people counter. The people counter will provide a more accurate account of how many people patronize the library and will replace the current method of manually counting people as they come into the library. Library attendance statistics are required by the state and can affect the library's ability to receive state funding, Aldrich said.

"The busiest times are when it's hard to focus on who's coming in and out, so I don't think it was particularly accurate," Aldrich said. "We receive money from the state based on our usage."

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