After 21 years as director of the Butterfield Library in Cold Spring, Gillian Murphy will leave in April for the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz.
Will it be difficult to leave Cold Spring?
A few years ago, I realized I’d taken Butterfield Library as far as I could, but still have more to give. I’m a seeker. I wanted to go somewhere bigger, to grow. Here we serve about 2,500 people; New Paltz serves about 14,000. It’s a college town, a hippie town, a big arts town. You can partner, do internships. Two years ago, I told my board I was going back to school and would leave when I finished. I recently completed my master’s degree in library and information science at Syracuse University. I’ve been through the emotional part and honestly, I’m not that upset. I’m ready. It’s the right step.
How has Butterfield changed during your time as director?
The internet has been the biggest thing. Everyone thought it would kill libraries but it has helped us, especially smaller libraries. For example, it enabled me to get rid of our reference collection — encyclopedia and dictionary sets that were costly, quickly outdated and took up so much space. We got rid of the Dewey Decimal System well over 10 years ago; I got rid of fines. Adding a passport service has been great. And we established “a library of things” — people can sign out everything from power washers, camping gear and vacuum cleaners, to sewing machines, metal detectors and passes to New York City museums. It serves so many people who don’t think of themselves as readers.
What are you most proud of?
The votes to secure funding were probably the most important thing we’ve done; I don’t think this library was sustainable otherwise. The Town of Philipstown contribution was never secure and varied from year to year. In 2006, district residents approved $276,000 in annual funding from the town. And in 2015, the Haldane community approved $73,150 in annual funding. I’m also proud of our increased usership. When I started in 2000, the annual circulation was 8,000 items. It reached 65,000 about three years ago.
Has there been a positive side to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Totally. Our patrons have learned to use digital resources much faster. People started using Kanopy and Hoopla to access audiobooks, music, movies and TV shows. We’ve had famous authors visit our book groups remotely. That would never have happened. Helping patrons build their own website worked much better on Zoom. Also, our staff kept working the whole time. We ripped the library apart and redid everything, even stained the bookshelves. Everything looks shiny and new.
Has the success, or failure, of some programs surprised you?
We’ve tried a lot of things. I’m not afraid to fail. I’m still trying to establish a “human library” here: You sign out a person and they tell you their story. Usually it’s someone who’s had a struggle they’ve overcome, such as drug abuse. We’ve done a lot of good things over the years — the themed parties were fun. Big Truck Day was a surprisingly huge success for years, then just kind of fell off. Other libraries copied it, and when that happens, it’s probably time for change. Everything has its life span.