Monday, August 04, 2008

Nancy Milnor: The New Director of The Somerville Public Library

Nancy Milnor: The New Director of The Somerville Public Library

The last thing you expect to encounter is a lilting Southern accent when you walk into the Director’s office at the Central Branch of the Somerville Public Library. But that’s part of the package you get with the new Director Nancy Milnor. Milnor is a native of Tennessee and has run libraries in Galveston, Texas, St. Louis Missouri, to name just a few locales. Milnor’s last job was the relatively “genteel” position of director of the Connecticut Historical Library. She left those tony environs to work in the milieu that is her first love: the public library system.

Milnor said: “I came to Somerville because I wanted a change. I love the rich cultural life in the Boston-area and Somerville is the most active, and participatory community that I ever worked in.” She finds Somervillians, young and old, interested in the library and the community-at-large.

Milnor has several projects she is pushing including: the continuation of free English as a Second Language classes, and the improvement and preservation of the Historical Archive. She said librarian Kevin O’Kelly is the head of this department and will be working on a survey with an outside agency concerning the needs of this valuable depository.

Milnor has an eye on the future, and is aware that libraries are rapidly changing with the high tech world. Many older residents and lower income folks use the library for computer access, often because they can’t afford to have a computer at home. The Young Urban Professionals among us use all the collections that the library has to offer according to the Director. Milnor said: “ We use product technology, databases, but we use books, and books are and will still be read. I don’t see the disappearance of the physical book.”

The library, according to Milnor, still orders reference books, magazines, fiction, nonfiction, —the whole range of literature.

The modern library, Milnor said, has a broader role as an educator and as a community center in which people can search for job opportunities for instance. She said that the Swedish retailer IKEA is going to have an online application station for Somerville residents at the Central Branch soon.

The Central Library is in the midst of renovation, and our interview was often punctuated with the sound of workmen, and the scuttle of painters and carpenters outside Milnor’s open door. Milnor said that the plaster is being repaired, new carpets are being appointed, and she expects all this to be done by the fall.

Milnor said she is an “amateur poet”, and that one of her advanced degrees from the University of Tennessee is in English. She lists her favorite bards as Eliot, and Plath, among others. She said she may even sample the poetic fare of Somerville’s literary group the “Bagel Bards” that meets every Saturday morning at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square.

Milnor is a dyed-in-the-wool archivist, and realizes the importance of preserving Somerville’s newspapers not only on microfilm but also in hard copy. Unlike the writer Nicholson Baker she doesn’t feel that there is a systematic plan to destroy books and newspapers by university or public libraries.

Milnor said she is dedicated to making the library “Even better.” As I left her office she was already on the phone -- undoubtedly making that vision happen.

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