Shawn Fields, the director of the C.H. Booth Library as of July 1, enthusiastically and thoroughly discussed the book he is currently reading, Guns, Germs, and Steel, by anthropologist Jared Diamond, in his first interview with The Bee, July 10. The book examines the different factors that effect populations as it seeks to answer the question of why civilization is the way it is, and the numerous reasons that contribute to why civilizations thrive or fail, from historical, biological, and anthropological approaches.
“I’m a voracious consumer of information,” said Mr Fields (who prefers to be addressed by his first name in person). It is one of many strengths he brings to his new position in Newtown, and one that can assist him in doing what he believes is primary to his job: assisting the public.
Married to Lorrie-Anne Monte, he is a resident of Oxford and has spent the past 5½ years as director of the Huntington Branch of the Shelton Public Library, where he oversaw a staff of 12. He holds a BS in business management and received his master’s in library science from Southern Connecticut State University in 2005. Mr Fields also holds a master’s in religious studies from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. He has worked in construction, training and recruiting, and for university and public libraries. It is this diversity of experience that Mr Fields hopes will translate into a positive experience as director of the C.H. Booth Library.
“I’m very particular about where I work,” Mr Fields said. He began consideration of the job in early December, but was not deterred by the idea that he might be stepping into a position emotionally fraught, after the shootings occurred in Sandy Hook the middle of that month. What clinched the decision that he had made a wise choice in pursuing the job, he said, was actually reading about the grace with which the decision to rebuild Sandy Hook School was handled. “It is an amazing community, to have that degree of civility on such a potentially contentious issue. It shows the character of the community,” he said.
During the recent interview, three words recurred frequently: history, service, and intelligence. They are values that he shares with the town of Newtown, he said, and which he hopes to build upon in creating a relationship with the community.
“There is a lot of support for the library in Newtown,” Mr Fields said, yet another reason he was attracted to the position.
“I’ve long been an admirer of Newtown,” Mr Fields said. “Anybody who has driven by knows that just this building is amazing. The community is wonderful, and I know it is a very intelligent community. As a librarian,” he said, “I’m really excited when the community is engaged. Newtown also has that Yankee character, and has maintained that historic character.”
One week on the job has not given him much chance to meet all of the nearly three dozen staff members at C.H. Booth Library, he said, let alone get into the town proper. “But my wife says I’m looking forward to eating my way through the town,” he joked.
He is not kidding, however, in how important he feels it is to get out into the community and let people know what the library has to offer. He plans to become a familiar face, in and out of the library building.
The staff members have already impressed him, in just the first few days he has worked with them. “We have a very talented staff here,” Mr Fields said. The library profession has grown increasingly challenging, he noted. “There is a great strain on library staffs, with more services and formats that they need to know and share.” He acknowledged that the staff of the C.H. Booth Library had also endured a very difficult six months, post 12/14, calling their efforts “Herculean” in response to the tragedy.
He also had high praise for the Board of Directors, as well as the Friends of the C.H. Booth Library. “When you look at what the Friends do; the book sale, for instance. The book sale is legendary,” he noted.
Having the size building for a library that Newtown has, and the collections within it, are great strengths of the C.H. Booth Library, Mr Fields said. He appreciates what he sees as a huge commitment from volunteers. “Resources you can change,” he said, “but changing a community is harder.”
“It’s always been about providing service to the public, for me. I like to say that the library is the most American of institutions, with equal access for everyone. My whole point in working is to serve others. For me, the library is a way to do that,” he said.
Mr Fields described himself as “very organized,” and preferred not to peg himself to any one leadership style. Rather, he said, he hoped his enthusiasm for the library would speak for itself. “I like to make clear [to the staff] what we’re trying to accomplish together, and I like to empower people to make decisions. My job,” he said, “is to provide guidance, and to make the staff’s job as easy as possible.
“I like to be open and straightforward about the kinds of things we are doing, realizing that you can’t keep all of the people happy, all of the time.”
He will encourage the staff to be “aggressive with the levels of service. We should be wracking our brains every day to come up with the best ways to serve the community.”
He has only begun to go through the budget for the C.H. Booth Library, he said, but said that funding is usually a concern for any library. State grants and funding are increasingly more difficult to obtain, so he is pleased to see support from the town.
“I want to help all to understand that we are being frugal and applying our resources intelligently, and help people to understand that a municipal budget alone does not sustain a library,” Mr Fields said.
He has thought about what he would like to accomplish in the short term. “We need to set up a strategic plan; a three-year plan. It will be a vision of what we want the library to be, and how we will get there,” he said. He plans to introduce focus groups with the public in the near future to zero in on what services are desired, and what the library is already doing well, or where its weaknesses lie.
Additionally, Mr Fields would like to see improved marketing of the library and improved technology. Expanding the electronic offerings is a priority, he said.
“I’m not a technophile, but I do think it is important to stay up on current technology,” said Mr Fields, as well as to work to balance those needs of the public with wise use of resources — always keeping in mind the importance of providing services without compromising privacy.
He foresees an expansion of the historical collections at the library, observing that the town historian, Dan Cruson, is also on the C.H. Booth Library Board of Directors, and that the library has an active curator.
Having a strategic plan, he said, will give the staff and board a unified vision of what will happen. “People then work hard to see that we succeed,” he said.
Winding up the end of the fiscal year items at the Huntington Branch and stepping into the new fiscal year at the C.H. Booth Library has kept him busy, Mr Fields said, so it will take him some time to finish introductions to all of the staff and to meet the townspeople, as well.
“I have felt very welcomed by the community already. I look forward to working with everyone,” Mr Fields said, “and to doing some great things together.”
He is happy to have the public stop by and say hello as he begins his new job. Comments are also welcome, he said, at firstname.lastname@example.org.