By Christopher Weigl, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury/Marlborough – Ellen Dolan, of Marlborough, genuinely loves helping people learn and has spent her life doing just that. From her early years as a page in the Marlborough Public Library, Dolan has since spent more than 40 years as a local librarian, first for 18 years in Marlborough, then as director of the West Boylston Public Library for 13 years, and now for 6 years in her current position as director of the Shrewsbury Public Library. As she explains, “I like to be able to assist people in meeting their goals and I think the library is a perfect place for that. People use it to improve their lives, to find enjoyment and pleasure, to connect with each other. So having a job where you get to facilitate all that is really rewarding everyday.”
With her hearty laugh and twinkling smile, Dolan brings a lighthearted yet firm leadership to the library's work ethic, and manages the staff of 11 full-time and 20 part-time workers with aplomb.
There doesn's seem to be a typical day for Dolan, as each week brings with it new opportunities as well as constraints, yet she was happy to run through her June 7 schedule. On her to-do list for the day was writing acknowledgements for Sunday sponsors, running a morning staff meeting, breaking down the prior night's Friends of the Library meeting, writing more formal program descriptions, working on a grant application for children's programming, and continuing to work on the switch to the new open-source Evergreen system. She typically works anywhere from 40-50 hours up to 60 hours a week, yet still laments that there is not enough time in a day, “How do you fit it all in?”
Dolan was initially averse to management because she became a librarian for the customer service interactions that made each day fresh.
“People come into the library often over the length of a lifetime and you build relationships and that's very rewarding. And the mix of people who come into our building, it's just incredible. The teenagers, the seniors, the young parents, the little ones, so you'se always meeting different people… It's really fun.”
After obtaining a master's in Library and Information Sciences from Simmons College in 1988, though, she tried management and found the new mixture of challenges stimulating. Management, she explains, “takes a lot of creativity and determination to accomplish what we need to do, especially in these tight budget times. It's a real challenge so we'se had to find workarounds, find ways to provide excellent service with really limited resources…It's something that is the reality of any organization, and it's more of a challenge…How do we do what we know we could do?”
Dolan enjoys tackling such difficult problems, and claims “There's something in me that needs the new challenges.”
Such trials will only increase as time goes on, for the Shrewsbury Public Library and the CW/MARS library system have seen burgeoning growth over the last ten years. For example, in 2001 there were 79 checkouts, 56 visits, and 2 interlibrary loans per hour, a far cry from 2011's 142 checkouts, 83 visits, and 23 interlibrary loans per hour.
“Last year we did, it still astounds me every year that this number is going up, last year we had 28,197 reference transactions. That's more than 2,300 requests a month.”
Dolan brags with a sly smile, “Years ago when computers first started coming in people said, “Oh, it will be the end of libraries.” We'se busier than ever and our jobs are actually more exciting than ever.”
Technology has played an enormous role in that growth, for it has allowed greater public access through online resources without overly burdening the library's staff or print resources. The library's role is much the same as it ever was, “providing resources for people and helping the community stay connected,” but technology has now enabled libraries to “bring information to people in their home and in their workplaces and to the schools…Now we purchase a database and it can be used by anyone in the community, wherever they are, at any time of the day, by many people at once.”
Such technology provides quick answers for the simplest queries, but Dolan is now finding that the library's growing reference work has become far more complex, as people turn to librarians” support for reliable in-depth research.
The librarians” skill set is subsequently changing with the new tools, for new technologies necessitate adaptability and a love of learning new things in order to compete. Yet while Dolan believes “it takes a different kind of person nowadays to do a great job in libraries…someone who eats up change, thinks it's a good thing,” libraries” roles have remained constant.
“The mission is the same. We'se providing information, we'se providing enrichment, we'se providing literacy, we'se just using different tools to get there.”
To view a slideshow of this “Day In The Life” go to .