By Kent Jarrell
Tom Piezzo has been the Director of the Brainerd Memorial Library for five years after serving at libraries in Madison and Guilford. He is also finishing his term as President of the Connecticut Library Association after helping its members through the COVID-19 epidemic.
Question: Why did you choose a career as a librarian, were you a reader when you were young? Was your local library a hideout for you?
Answer: I was a reader for as long as I can remember, thanks to my dad’s set of the Harvard Classics, an old Encyclopedia Britannica, and my local library being a short 12 block walk from home. I had my favorite reading nooks and enjoyed the mystery of seeing all the volumes on topics I knew nothing about laid out in front of me. I was a high school English teacher but then discovered librarianship as a meaningful way to work in a non-profit profession, allied to learning and serving all ages, abilities, and identities. It was exciting to become part of “the people’s university,” an institution where both curious autodidacts and frantic school children with last-minute assignments come to explore or to be guided to their own discoveries.
Question: Why did you choose Haddam’s library?
Answer: Brainerd Memorial Library possessed an ideal combination of architectural interest, a community small enough to know, but large enough to support ambitious undertakings, not far from a city, but near the bucolic farm and river scenes, led by a progressive and enterprising board of trustees and run by a dedicated staff. A director couldn’t ask for much more that than.
Question: Brainerd is a non-profit corporation, but you also receive funding from the Town of Haddam. How does that work?
Answer: Like a third of libraries in the state, we are an association library, as opposed to being a department of the town. We are fortunate that every year the Town of Haddam generously appropriates approximately 80% of our operational costs, and also, recently approved a capital improvement request for the future phase two of our renovation. The rest is the Brainerd Library’s responsibility. Most of that funding comes from dividends for our de-risked portfolio in the Library’s Trust. We also count on the efforts of The Friends of the Library, and fundraisers like the successful “Bid for Brainerd” auction this spring. Rounding out our income are grants from various sources such as the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, H-K Youth and Family Services, and the State of Connecticut. We are always grateful for donations of any size.
Question: This has been a tough year a half. How has the Library continued to operate under COVID restrictions and a long-planned construction project?
Answer: After 27 years of trying my best to get people to visit libraries, it was disorienting to have to keep patrons out of our building. Covid related supply chain issues have now eased up and we are getting our full orders of books, DVDs, and other materials. Our programming, meetings, and book discussions have taken place on Zoom and Google Meet, or exist as pre-recorded videos. We connect with patrons on the phone, via email, or even at the door for consultation and other assistance. Thousands of items went out in touchless pickup bags –at times we felt like a take-out restaurant!
The staff should be commended for their willingness to play a crucial part in devising and implementing the new way of operation, and for working through their own health concerns to provide for the community. They came up with new ways of programming and outreach, added a personal touch to the take-away materials, and even initiated a series of “care cards” to users at the holidays and Valentine’s Day, just to let those who might need a boost know that the Library is thinking of them. They volunteered to drop off items at patrons’ homes when necessary and supported us in our ongoing fundraising to ensure we remain fiscally viable. The working conditions during this protracted renovation were not always optimal, with interruptions to water, internet, power, and building access, as well as the inevitable noise and dust that attends a construction site, but staff members were good sports about it all.
Question: What does the summer ahead look like for the Brainerd Library and when will you fully re-open?
Answer: This summer, we are looking forward to a return to in-person programming, largely to be held at Field Park, thanks to the kind cooperation of the Field Park Association. We will be at the Higganum Farmers Market on selected dates, promoting our summer reading program, and we are actively booking more Zoom programming for adults. The summer reading program will be for all ages, and offer prizes as well.
As we move away from the worst of the COVID 19 pandemic and our first phase of renovation heads to completion, I hope we can open our doors to patrons sometime in July, with continued touchless pick-up and some basic safety protocols. The goal for being fully operational is the start of the coming school year. Unfortunately, completion of the renovations is almost 100% out of our hands. What remains are some interior details, paving the new parking lot, masonry for the plaza, and a new driveway to the home behind the library we sold to help cover the construction costs. The contractors are fully aware of the urgency. Given the unpredictability we’ve experienced in the past year, I am being cautious in proclaiming a date set in stone, but we are all anxious to be open once again as a community hub to one and all.
Photo by Donna Brinckerhoff.