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New Montague libraries director appointed

Linda Hickman, seen here in the Carnegie Public Library in Turners Falls, is the new director of Montague Public Libraries. Recorder/Paul Franz

Linda Hickman, seen here in the Carnegie Public Library in Turners Falls, is the new director of Montague Public Libraries. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

MONTAGUE — Children’s librarian Linda Hickman is now director of the Montague Public Libraries.

Trustee Cindy Tarail said the Board of Trustees’ personnel subcommittee met Tuesday to discuss whether to appoint Hickman to the permanent position or re-open the job search, and voted to hire Hickman, a decision subsequently approved by a special meeting of the full committee.

Hickman has served as interim director since the board’s first choice resigned abruptly in November, days after the retirement of his predecessor.

Hickman was one of three finalists for the position identified by the board in the original search this summer. The decision came down to Hickman or the manager of a Philadelphia library branch.

Hickman described her original application as a form of insurance.

“When I originally applied I had mixed feelings because I really loved being the children’s librarian, but I wanted to make sure a really good director was hired,” Hickman said, and she was content with the board’s selection of David Payne based on his greater managerial and technological experience.

Now, with a month as interim director on top of her almost 18 years as the Montague children’s librarian, Hickman is enthusiastic about the job and the future of the three libraries and said she feels her time in the Montague Libraries and the community better position her to make a difference.

A Wendell resident, Hickman has experienced first-hand the difficulties of navigating modern life without ready access to the Internet, and one of her first steps has been to apply for a grant that would more than quadruple the Internet access offered through the library.

Hickman has submitted an application for $90,000 worth of laptop and tablet computers, projectors and technical training to the state Community Innovation Challenge Grant Program for the libraries, the Montague Senior Center and the Turners Falls Women’s Resource Center.

The library only has room for four full-size computer stations, and Hickman said there is often a waiting list to use these as more and more banking, business and government services move online.

“The basic premise of it is that seniors and low income folks and also people who have geographic limitations for Internet access, it’s increasingly difficult for them because there’s such a push for everything to be done online,” Hickman said.

If the application is successful, the Montague system’s flagship Carnegie Library on Avenue A would receive about a dozen laptops and four tablets, providing Internet access points and the infrastructure to begin offering computer literacy classes, Hickman said.

The grant proposal includes the Women’s Resource Center and the Senior Center, which Hickman said should also reach potential library patrons who have difficulty accessing the structure because of the stairs. Replacing or expanding the small, aging, difficult-to-access Carnegie Library building remains on the priority list, she said.

If the application is unsuccessful, Hickman said she intends to continue applying for the money from other grant sources.

Technology is one facet of a growing role for the libraries in modern society, as Hickman sees it.

Circulation has climbed from 60,000 items in the late 1980s to 105,000 items last year, Hickman said. She attributes this trend to the economy — shrinking entertainment budgets and the need to access technology, both particularly acute in poorer areas.

The library has seen little to no increase in staffing in that same period, Hickman said, and the situation is particularly stressed now as she balances her old and new jobs. Hickman is responsible for finding a new children’s librarian, and has hired a temp in the meantime to supplement a staff of two full-time and three part-time employees managing three libraries.

The daughter of a librarian, Hickman said she chose a career in libraries because she loves books and helping people.

Hickman, a New Jersey native, said she and her husband fell in love with western Massachusetts while attending graduate school at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“I wanted to be out in the country, but not isolated country. I wanted to be in an area where there’s a lot of cultural and intellectual opportunities,” she said.

Hickman raises chickens and other meat animals in the summer on her small farm, at present home to a llama and a dozen chickens. “I have no intention of going anywhere else,” Hickman said. “I love working in Montague. I love living in Wendell.”

Normally, directorial appointments are made pending contract negotiations, but Tarail said in this case there isn’t much left to discuss: the salary has already been negotiated, beginning at $56,014 for the full-time position.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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