New leaders, novel ideas at Edwards Library in Southampton

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 06-04-2023 5:00 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — As a self-professed dilettante, Johanna Rodriguez Douglass feels especially comfortable surrounded by stacks of stories at the Edwards Public Library.

Douglass began settling into her role as the director of the Southampton library last November following the retirement of Barbara Goldin who worked in the position for more than a decade.

“Whether it’s health or engineering or a septic system or psychology — it helps to have a little knowledge about a lot of things,” she said.

Born just north of New York City, in Peekskill, New York, Douglass credits her parents with helping instill a sense of stability and a lens of possibilities. Her father was from Orocovis, Puerto Rico and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He met her mother after the war while stationed at the Port of Spain, Trinidad and they moved to New York.

Douglass holds a bachelor’s degree in theater and psychology from Fordham University in New York City and a master’s of fine arts in the theater program at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

While in Washington, she performed in a sketch comedy improv group called Fresh Victims, and worked as a member of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s educational touring company, Bill’s Buddies. She also worked in Poland for an educational touring company.

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At the same time, she also made appearances as an actor on TV shows like “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “America’s Most Wanted.”

After she got married and started a family, Douglass moved to Maine and continued teaching Shakespeare and taking on occasional acting work to perform in advertisements and TV shows.

In the late 2000s, she got her start in Massachusetts as a substitute librarian for the then-Emily Williston Memorial Library. Throughout her seven years in Easthampton, she moved up the ranks to program director and then to the head of youth services, following behind her then-coworker, friend and mentor Goldin.

In January 2012, Goldin left her role as the acting director of the Easthampton library and became the director of the Southampton library. With some encouragement from Goldin and other colleagues, shortly thereafter, Douglass joined Goldin in Southampton as the youth librarian.

“They thought I would be a good fit,” she said with a smile.

Similarly, Douglass says she feels the same way about the newest youth librarian at Edwards, Andrea LeClair.

Turning the page

When Goldin retired in September of last year, Douglass took over as acting director until being officially named director in November. In April, LeClair was hired to Douglass’ previous role of youth librarian.

“She, too, is a good fit. She’s energetic and I am delighted to have Andrea’s fingerprints on the youth department now. She’s going to soar,” she said.

A resident of Southampton, LeClair has been working in libraries for the past decade. Prior to this position, she worked as a library media specialist at New Hingham Regional Elementary School in Chesterfield. She also previously worked at the Richard Salter Storrs Library in Longmeadow and the Watertown Free Public Library.

A native of Maine, she holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Mount Holyoke College, a master’s of fine arts degree in fiction writing from Emerson College in Boston, and a master’s of library science degree from Simmons University.

With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, both Douglass and LeClair are anxious to get people back into the library to showcase all of its offerings. As a member of CW Mars, the Central and Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing network, the library is able to get materials beyond what books and audiobooks are currently stocked on the library’s shelves.

“I’m hoping to make lifelong library patrons, so that they feel joy when they come to the library and know that this is a place that’s fun. I think it’s easy for kids when they’re busy or overwhelmed in school and homework,” said LeClair.

Novel ideas

For LeClair, it’s also important that library patrons know that there’s no just “one way” to read. Whether a parent is reading to a child, or a patron is reading a graphic novel or listening to an audiobook, it’s all reading.

“I want to take away the pressure that there is a certain way you’re supposed to use the library. We are not a quiet library, and to me that’s wonderful,” she said.

One of her first big projects in her new role is summer reading. This year’s theme is “Find Your Voice.” Sign-ups begin June 26 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A kick-off event featuring The Dream Tale Puppets will be held on June 27 at 6 p.m. in the pavilion. Prizes will be awarded throughout the program and for those who record their reading from June 26 to Aug. 5.

There is also a summer reading program for adults with weekly prizes starting July 10 and ending Aug. 18 for logging weekly reads. Grand prize winners earn a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble.

Looking toward the future, Douglass has aims to transform the Southampton building into a more forward-thinking facility. To start, the library was recently awarded a $10,000 grant that will be used to perform a facility upgrade to energy efficient lighting that will improve the quality of library visits for visually impaired patrons and reduce the library’s energy consumption and costs.

“It would be really interesting to figure out what the technology is that we could use to save money and be greener,” she said.

The grant, which is part of the Libraries Transforming Communities: Accessible Small and Rural Communities, an American Library Association (ALA) initiative, will help patrons with visual impairments feel more welcome and take advantage of the library’s collection, said Douglass.

As a companion to this initiative, Douglass is taking an online course in how to lead conversations and will host a conversation with residents about resources for the blind and visually impaired. The library is hosting this event with Valley Eye Radio Program Director Harold Anderson on Wednesday, June 14 from 3 to 4 p.m.

Valley Eye Radio provides a service of broadcast readings from local and community newspapers, magazines and feature programs for those who are not able to read print material independently.

For more information about upcoming programming at the library, call 413-527-9480 or visit southamptonlibrary.org.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.]]>