A Chat with a Library Director

Jessie: In New Hampshire where the trees are putting on a heartbreakingly glorious show!

I cannot tell you how delighted I am to welcome Elizabeth Baker to the Wickeds today. She was my very first friend in the village I have made my home for the last 28 years and ever since then, she has been one of my very dearest. In those intervening years we have each pursued careers of a literary sort; I with my writing and Betsy as an absolute gem of a library director. And as well as I thought I knew her from years of play dates, dog walks, and chatty lunches I still learned some new things as a result of this interview. I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I have!

Jessie: In the seventeen years that you have been a library director how has your role, and the role of libraries in communities changed?

Elizabeth: The Milton Free Public Library was my first job in libraries. I envisioned the library as a place to get books, magazines, and movies. Certainly, that is what we did! As my job progressed, Movies went from VHS to DVDs, to streaming. Some books became audiobooks on cassettes, to  CDs, to downloads. As the years progressed, we also started to offer more to all in our”library of things:” adventure bags for children, a telescope, a seed library, and more!

The building changed. In 2006, the upstairs space was an attic filled with discarded books. By 2016, the upstairs space was reimagined for children to explore  S.T.E.M ( (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)and S.T.E.A.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts,  and Math) games and equipment for children.

We have offered more programming over the years: storytime, crafting groups, and children’s parties. 

COVID made me more intentional about how I write policies: How do we react to a worldwide shutdown? How do we react to the deepening social divide? How do we find accurate fact-based information?

J: Is there such a thing as a typical day in the life of a public library director?

E: I have an Excel spreadsheet that lists tasks and chores that I need to do on an annual, monthly, weekly, and daily basis. It is a pretty dry list, which you would think would lead to a dry job. It’s not. Even though I have a routine, I don’t feel stagnant, habituated, or dissatisfied as a result. I don’t think of my job that way. On a daily basis, I would evaluate past programs to enhance future ones, plan for programs months in advance, and deal with the fires that are right in front of me. None of these fires are large blazes, maybe because of the planning and evaluation. Certainly, the best part of any day is interacting with patrons, staff, and the public (and books!).

J: One of the things you have been known for during your tenure is how carefully and appealingly you have curated the library’s collection. How did you go about choosing which books to add?

E: I choose material based on what the patrons want, primarily. Many items were not under my radar until someone spoke up. Other items I might have thought about and discarded until someone else requests them.

Library Journal provides a great list of recently and future published items. 

Twice a year, New Hampshire Public Radio runs a program with local booksellers and librarians from larger libraries letting the listeners in on what is circulating or selling in their area. 

The New York Times provides a  list of best sellers. I often find other lists in whatever periodical I read. All of these periodicals help form my wish list too.

J: What would you say are one or two of the greatest challenges today’s public libraries face?

E: Budget and banning. Milton Free Public Library is located in a small village that is part of a (not much larger) town. Libraries in New Hampshire  are funded by the town, not a county  (as they are funded in other states.) Small New Hampshire towns are tasked with funding all of their municipal services based solely on property taxes. New Hampshire residents certainly, but nationally as well, engage in a hot debate about how to fund and what to fund regarding municipal services. When people feel the squeeze, many feel that libraries are expendable.

I find it very difficult to remain neutral when discussing book banning. There are those that want to choose what can and cannot circulate in a given library-especially material for children..I don’t think anyone should be told that patrons can’t read an item based on an adult’s personal/cultural/religious beliefs. I hope that any parent can have a discussion with their charges about what the home norms are, but it is not up to a librarian! That said, the surefire way to get a youth to read a book, is to tell them not to read it because it is too salacious!

J: What have been one or two of your fondest memories from your library career?

E: Any community gathering reminds me why I chose this village. Most are not strictly “library” gatherings, but the library grounds provide a ” jump off” point. Every year the  July 4th parade musters in the library parking lot. The library hosts the veterans every other Memorial Day observance. The library also participates in the Halloween “Trick or Treat” nights. The library also hosts children’s parties. Each event-every year- steeps me in nostalgia.

J: What have you read recently that you would recommend? What is in your to-be-read pile?

E: Well, naturally, I have recommended all of the Wickeds! The patrons love a good mystery! I am usually way behind on the bestseller list: I loved A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towle, Night Circus by Erin Morganstern, and anything by Andy Weir. 

I am a huge fan of non-fiction and will read a cookbook from cover to cover, I especially enjoy those from kitchens, unlike those I am most familiar with ! 

My “to read” list is long. As I said, I love non-fiction and like to peruse the non-fiction shelves for things I haven’t read yet, be it cookbooks, history, biographies, or a “how to!”

J: And finally, if you could tell the public just one thing you wish everyone knew about their local library, what would it be?

E: If you walk into a library expecting a “shush librarian” in a tight bun and echoing stacks, you will be surprised! Libraries are populated with energetic, thoughtful people (patrons, and staff:) using the public computers to study or work; crafters talking about their homes, gardens, and lives; children learning and sharing new ideas and engaging with people of different ages; adults also engaging in new ideas, discussing books, and greeting their neighbors. In Milton, the library thrums with all of this and more! …and the library director might have wild, loose, purple hair.

Readers, do you have a favorite library or librarian memory to share? Leave a comment to be entered in a giveaway for Jessica’s latest Beryl and Edwina mystery and an extra goodie or two besides!


Elizabeth, “Betsy” Baker is a granddaughter, daughter, and mother of librarians. She is also a lifelong lover of books, rescue dogs, and burnt popcorn. When not acting as the director of a small, but mighty library she reads, knits, and dotes on the world’s cutest grandchild.  

49 Thoughts

  1. Betsy, welcome, and thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences! I probably met you many years ago when I and several other Wicked Authors attended Jessie’s launch party for Drizzled with Death – in your lovely library.

    My home library (Amesbury, MA) isn’t quite as small as yours, and has a fabulous local history collection, which proved so valuable (along with the reference librarian whose specialty was history) when I was writing my late 1800s Quaker Midwife Mysteries, set in Amesbury. Do you have lots of local history in the stacks, or would you refer a patron to a larger library?

    1. Edith:
      Of course I remember you. Thank you for your question.
      We do have some local history in the stacks. In New Hampshire, we are fortunate to have a great inter-library loan system and I am able to find most of what I am looking for.
      I have found that libraries from neighboring states (like MA,) are willing to lend as well.
      I have, on occasion , also used the Library of Congress.
      I am sure that your local library can also use similar sources.

      1. Thanks, Betsy! Indeed they can. Our interlibrary consortium is fabulous, and I have access to the Boston Public Library, too. Margie Walker even tried to get me a rare book from Pasadena, CA, but they wouldn’t send it to MA.

  2. What a treat! Thanks for having a librarian on the blog! As a fellow librarian, Betsy hit all the highpoints of library world. Libraries are a special place where so many wonderful things can happen in a day. Unfortunately, some people do not view them in this light and will try to underfunded us or pursue book banning as a way to shut us down. Thank you Betsy for fighting for our right to read! Libraries are magical!!

  3. As a senior citizen, I honestly feel sorry for the youth of today. They miss out on so much with the true library experience of the past. I can remember learning how to look up the location of a book, the thrill of being able to take an adventure home with me and being able to go to a place that enabled me to do my homework.

    There’s something about going to a place that usually has more books than a person could read in a life time, but know you have a lifetime to try to read them all. Checking a book out not only gives a reader joy, but it also teaches the youth responsibility – how to treat another’s property, making sure it’s not lost or damaged and returned to the owner in a timely manner and learning to do things yourself (It’s ok to be shown to learn, but eventually you have to do things for yourself.). During my youth, there wasn’t the internet and most homes didn’t have a set of reference books in them. When a teacher gave an assignment, you went to the library to research for accurate information you used to do that homework. In doing so, you gained knowledge but also how to find that accurate information. There wasn’t a he said, she said or gossip – it was verified facts to be found.

    In elementary school we started out with no libraries, but depended on book mobiles for fiction reading. I can still remember the job when I could actually go to a library and not just a reference room. I can remember the feeling of awe and amazement. I wish every young person could experience that and not take books, fact finding missions and the library in general for granted.

    LOVE the Beryl and Edwina mysteries! Thank you for the fabulous chance to win this awesome package including one of your books.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  4. Our library is pretty small (although when building a new one it did get a little bigger) in a very rural area, so the selection is limited and borrowing from another library can take ages. But I loved going to the library. As a kid the librarian always recommended something great and I didn’t get a hard time from her like I did my elementary school librarian just because I could read adult level books. As an adult I don’t go as often as I’d like since the limited hours conflicted with my work schedule for many years. Now that I’m in a different department I’ve started to be able to get back there.

  5. I was lucky enough to visit your beautiful library when I was visiting Jessie. It’s charming and full of energy! I’ve loved going to libraries since I was a little kid.

  6. I loved going to the library as a child when I live down in Houston. It was so much fun going through the shelve to get both new and old books.

  7. What an interesting, informative article. Librarians and nurses are my heroes. C. J. Box’s Joe Pickett novels features Marybeth, head librarian of their small Wyoming town. Highly recommended. Mary Jo

  8. My favorite library memory is when the website started. Suddenly we weren’t limited to just the books in our own neighborhood library. If our library didn’t have the books you wanted, they would transfer books from whatever library in the city did have them. As someone who likes to read cozy mystery series in order, this was amazing. I visit a lot to check out the books I’ve put on Hold and the people who work there are always so nice.

    1. My favorite library memory is my parents taking me as a little girl. The wonderful smell of all those books!! So many books for me to choose from. We would go every week or more. I remember the joys of the book mobile. Great memories!

  9. I am a lifelong lover of books, libraries and librarians. Living in an urban area, my library is part of a large library system offering many resources. During Covid, they started opening for pickup of requested items only and I learned to use Libby for ebooks and audio books, once all branches reopened fully programs have been slowly added. One of my favorite memories is taking my son to get his first library card as soon as he could write his name, when his kindergarten class visited the public library to apply for cards he was the only one who already had one. Years later I visited my son & his family and had a lovely visit to their library with my daughter-in-law and 1 year old grandson for story time and play time. My grandson is growing up in a house filled with books and will be the next generation of book and library lovers!

  10. Love this behind the scenes look at modern library science and a day in the life of a director! I was president of the library council at my high school. The library was the hub of school life. We dealt with everything from fun reads to helping with research. I attended a private school, the campus and original school building had been the home of a local doctor who left it to the Sisters of St. Dominic. His private collection formed the core of our library collection. At the end of my senior year, the original books were removed from the shelves, they had gotten very delicate, and replaced with reprints. I was permitted to select a few originals for my personal library. It was an honor to find a first edition of Kim (my real first name) and a signed edition of Robert Burns’s poetry.

  11. We went to the library weekly as a kid. And I’d check out way more books than I could read. The only thing that’s changed between now and then is now I buy more books than I can possibly read.

    Thanks for this look into the life of a librarian.

    (And no need to enter me in the giveaway.)

  12. Betsy, thank you so much for joining the Wickeds today. Pre-covid I used the opportunities to give library talks as my informal way of touring around and getting to know the state of Maine, where I moved full-time five years ago. It’s been a wonderful adventure.

    I’m on the board of the Friends of the Library in Key West, and my daughter-in-law is a librarian in Virginia, both large county-based systems. I have to say it’s made me appreciate our New England town-based libraries, where local librarians and communities make decisions.

  13. We have a library that was just built near us, and I am so excited because now I have a library within a reasonable driving distance. I was there within the first couple of days of the grand opening to borrow books. I remember as a child how magical a place the library seemed to me. It is great that I still feel the excitement of entering one even today.

  14. Jessie, it’s so cool that you gave the spotlight to a library director! My second most favorite job (besides writer) was when I was a children’s librarian back in Virginia. Nothing like spending time with kids and books. I don’t miss all the book banning nonsense that’s going on. Sounds like your friend handles it all with aplomb. Hope you’re doing well. I wanted to tell you that a friend (Carolyn) is crazy about your Beryl and Edwina books and wanted me to ask you – is Beryl based on Beryl Markham?

    1. Being a children’s librarian seems like such a wonderful job! Thanks for the kind words about B&E! Beryl’s name was inspired by her and perhaps a bit of her courage, but mostly she is invented!

  15. I always loved libraries for research. I so enjoyed going through card catalogs and what else was out there that might fit my needs. Oh, and all the loose articles and pamphlets! Pure joy. So much more dependable than the internet with all the misinformation mixed in with the real stuff. And, of course, the stacks of books I would check out every week. What wonderful memories, but life changes and these things, unfortunately, are not a part of my life for now. But I sure do read a lot, especially the beloved cozies. Thank you, Wickeds.

  16. I had a wonderful children’s librarian growing up – when I had read all the books that were of interest on the children’s side, she would go over to the adult side and select books for me to read and personally check them out under my library card.

  17. My Mom was always reading and there were always books in the house. She would take us on the bus to the library every week in the summer to pick up books to read for the week. We would go to the library after school during the school year, it was right next to our school and about a block from my grandmother’s house. I have lots of good memories of the library, lots of wooden shelves, lots of books and quiet, so different than today.

  18. I remember a librarian who always was there for any and all questions when I was a youth. She would help me with the card catalog when I needed to do research for school papers. She always knew where to find my favorite authors. If I was roaming the stacks, she would check to see if I needed any help. It has been so many years, that I have forgotten her name. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you.

  19. Kent County (Maryland) Public Library kept providing books throughout the pandemic.

  20. We got to know our children’s Librarian really well when our kids were little. Her name was Dorothy and for Halloween she would dress up like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz!

  21. I grew up in Milton Mills and actually went to school in the building that is now our library… grades 1-3 downstairs, 4-6 upstairs. I am so thankful that Betsy has kept a library alive and thriving in our little town and has worked so hard to preserve this historic building. We recently retired and were able to return to Milton Mills to live and it is so wonderful to see the community spirit that Betsy has been a part of building.

  22. I’ve worked in the library of my hometown for many years now and can echo this Director’s experiences of change, change, change! Luckily, I have the world’s best boss to lead the way. My favorite library memory is of the day I met a new, and handsome, patron while working the Circulation Desk. Life turned into a romance novel! We’ve been married over thirty years now. 💖

  23. I always wanted to be a librarian from my very early years when my father took me to the library weekly to get books. I used to play teacher and librarian to my stuffed animals. The only reason I did not become a librarian is that there were never open jobs. Whether a public library or a school library, they get a librarian and she/he stay until they retire. I still love the idea of being one, but I am over the hill now. That was a great interview.

  24. This may come through twice, but I think I hit the wrong button and my comment was erased as I do not see it here, though it could be delayed. I have always wanted to be a librarian ever since I was five years old, and my father would take me weekly to the library to check out books. I used to play librarian and teacher with my stuffed animals. The reason that I never became a librarian is that there were never any open jobs. Whether it was a public library or a school library, that librarian was there until he/she retired. I would still love to be one but am too old now and retired after teaching 38 1/2 years. I did use the school library with my students all of the time for reading and researching. Funny, I live in Milton. Georgia and we have a Milton Library.

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