New librarian, new century in Ashfield

Martha J. Cohen is the new director of the Belding Memorial Library in Ashfield.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Martha J. Cohen is the new director of the Belding Memorial Library in Ashfield. Recorder/Paul Franz

ASHFIELD — It was 100 years ago that silk manufacturer Milo Belding gave the town the Belding Memorial Library, in honor of his parents. And the town’s new library director, Martha Cohen, is looking forward to both the library’s centennial celebration and planning for its future.

Cohen grew up in Northampton, but has lived in Seattle for the past 20 years, where she ran the reference library and the teen library for the King County Library System, which operates 44 branch libraries in an area the size of Connecticut. Cohen moved to Southampton in September, to live nearer to her mother, who is in her 90s.

Cohen started her new part-time job at the Belding in January, replacing Anne Judson, who retired after serving as library director for at least 20 years.

“One of my goals, here, is to create a teen collection and a teen area, in hopes of drawing more teens to the library,” says Cohen. “I love teen books. I prefer reading teen fiction to adult fiction. Most teen fiction is written to give teen characters some aspiration or hope.”

Despite pop culture concerns that young people’s attention spans have diminished with the rise of electronic media, Cohen says teens will stick with long books — and book series — if the book really speaks to them.

“Look at Harry Potter,” she says. “(The series) was so long and the kids just loved it. When they like a series, they will focus on it and read big, long books.”

Cohen said that graphic novels, which teens seem to read more than adults, are “more sophisticated than many adults give them credit for.” Instead of being more elaborate comic books, Cohen said, the graphic novels, with their intricate drawings, require different reading skills — which teens seem to be able to do more easily than many adults.

“I hope to generate more teen interest in their library, so they have an area they can call their own, along with some programming,” said Cohen. One idea in the works is to offer teens an event that would feature Ashfield graphic novelist Greg Ruth in a talk on writing a graphic novel.

Cohen believes fewer teens use the town library because they instead use the library at the Mohawk Trail Regional High School. Cohen hopes to make connections to Ashfield teens at Mohawk and find out what they’d like to see in a teen area. She pointed out that the Belding has Wi-Fi and people do come in with laptops, or to use the library’s two computers.

“We have families coming in, and we hate to lose the kids during their teen years,” she remarked. We want to be a library that people use all their lives.”

Before moving to Seattle, Cohen ran the libraries for the Massachusetts Audubon Society out of Lincoln, for about four years. Before that, she worked as a reference librarian for Mount Holyoke College. She earned her library science degree from Simmons College in Boston.

Belding Library’s website is under construction, and Cohen is working with a library trustee to revitalize it. She hopes to provide links to the extensive data base that the Massachusetts Library System subscribes to, so that library users can do extensive research projects here. She also wants to link to the state library system’s “news-bank” of electronic newspaper subscriptions. Cohen also hopes to regularly post news about newly acquired books and library items, and advertise special events and programming.

Cohen said a centennial committee is being formed to put together special events to celebrate the library’s 100th birthday, and she will be helping with those special events.

“Right now, we’re very open to developing active adult programming,” she added. “We have a community meeting room we would like to open up, which is under-used right now.” Cohen said she’s heard Ashfield has many artists, and she is hoping to develop some programs that “tap into that.”

On Monday and Wednesday mornings, before the library opens, Cohen has been reading stories to children at the Ashfield Preschool. When the weather gets warmer, she is hoping to organize some “story hours” for toddlers at the library.

“We had a number of applicants,” said Library Trustees Chairwoman Marcine Eisenberg. “We consider ourselves really lucky that she took the job. She’s made a lot of changes already.”

The Belding Memorial Library is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 2 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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