Years ago, when Lisa Sherman took a part-time summer job at the Edgartown Library shelving books, she did not anticipate how this short break from her harried New York city lifestyle would play a large part in her future. This past fall, more than a decade later, Ms. Sherman became the head librarian at the Aquinnah Public Library. But we are getting ahead of the story.
In the late 1990’s, Ms. Sherman moved to New York city to take a job with Bloomingdale’s in the advertising department. She married soon after and gave birth to a daughter, Maisie.
“We were both in crazy industries,” she said. “He [Ezra Sherman] was an operations manager of a restaurant and I was in advertising with a Blackberry strapped to my side, and she [Maisie] was two at the time. We just didn’t think that was the life that we wanted . . . when she was in her highchair, I was texting and writing to people finalizing ads.”
The family decided to take a break from the New York city rat race and spend the summer on the Vineyard where Ezra grew up. Ms. Sherman enjoyed working at the Edgartown library, but with no real job prospects the family headed back to New York after the summer ended to resume their previous lifestyle. A year later Ms. Sherman received a call from the Edgartown library director, Felicia Cheney, informing her that a position as circulation supervisor had opened up.
“I knew I needed to get out of advertising but I didn’t know what I wanted to do back then. But the idea of a library fulfilled all the things that drive me. [As a production manager in advertising] it was all very organized and detail-oriented, which also appealed to me about library work.”
In addition to her regular responsibilities, Ms. Sherman also served as the CLAMS representative for Edgartown, assisted with some of the grant writing process for the building project and hosted a bi-monthly book group.
“Felicia would see what everyone’s individual talents were and let them run with it. She allowed me to do things with and for her that were outside of the bounds of my position because I wanted to learn, so it was an ongoing mentorship. She was teaching as much as she was managing. It all sort of solidified my love for this work.”
After a certain point, Ms. Sherman felt it was time to explore other options. Upon learning that Aquinnah library director Kathy Thompson was retiring, Ms. Sherman decided to apply.
“I applied knowing that there were people much more qualified than I was, but I thought it would be a good experience to start to put myself out there. And then I got the job, which was really exciting.”
Ms. Sherman said she is happy to be a part of a community that is so close-knit and small, where everyone knows each other and all the kids grew up together.
“We talk a lot about the library serving multiple purposes now. You don’t just check out a book and go home. People go there to gather, mothers and fathers catch up, people come in to be together. Up there it’s especially important because there aren’t that many places to meet. There isn’t, say, a coffee shop up there.”
And in such a cozy, intimate space you can’t enforce the “shh” rule, she said. You want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome.
At this early point in her tenure (she started Thanksgiving week), Ms. Sherman is still spending time getting to know the community and their needs.
“Making sure you’re giving the best customer service you can means listening and learning before you do anything. One of the big things about transitioning from a place where I knew every corner of the building to a place where I don’t even know where the paper clips are is that I have to sit back and listen and meet people and learn about the place before I can think about making any changes.”
She also wants to tap into the Wampanoag presence in Aquinnah and make sure to serve those needs as well. “It’s a huge piece of the community, so I’m hoping to make a connection there.”
There are also modern updates to implement such as the CLAMS system (Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing), which allows people access to about two million books through 30
to 35 participating libraries on the Cape and Islands. All the up-Island libraries will move to this system over the next few months and hope to complete the process by early 2013 (Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown already participate).
“Being a part of this transition is very appealing to me. I’m very familiar with CLAMS, and look forward to taking on the task of working through the details, training the staff and educating the community.”
The library is already a part of the ILL program (Inter-Library Loan) through Quincy.
Working with such a small space also poses some challenges. With the capacity to hold around 8,000 titles, it’s a continuous process figuring out what to put on the shelves.
“You have to weed because you have to continue to purchase, so you have to be more cut-throat,” Ms. Sherman said. “You might carry one or two titles on a subject, rather than five, for example. But one of the benefits of CLAMS is that you’ll have access to a particular title that way.”
Ms. Sherman feels like she’s found her place landing in the library world. “I knew that a profession of serving was where I wanted to be, but didn’t know the exact path it would take, so this was serendipity – luck and serendipity and all those kinds of things. It’s fulfilling helping someone find resources for anything from building a deck, to raising chickens, to getting a child to sleep through the night.”