A changing of the guard took place Wednesday morning as Zoe Pechter and Sondra Murphy read aloud to a group of youngsters at the Oak Bluffs Public Library. Regulars and newcomers to the children’s room eagerly pointed at the colorful picture books, laughed as they danced the Hokey Pokey, and sang along to “the French song,” a staple of Oak Bluffs storytime.
The change was ostensibly a personnel one. Ms. Pechter, who started her new job as children’s librarian on June 1, was taking the baton from Ms. Murphy, who is now the library’s director. But the two are also part of a greater campaign in Oak Bluffs, and at libraries across the Island, to reenvision libraries as a “third space,” neither home nor school, but still a place for the community to gather.
“It’s a completely new energy, completely different from when I started,” Ms. Murphy said, citing the can-do, innovative approach the staffers bring to the library’s organization.
Ms. Pechter is the most recent in a wave — by library standards, a veritable tsunami — of shifts at the library. Ms. Murphy was named Acting Director in June 2012, even as she continued her role as children’s librarian, and named director in January of this year. In addition to Ms. Pechter, reference librarian Miki Wolfe, library assistant Jonathan Burke, and several part-time staffers have joined the team.
“I think this is the best time in the Oak Bluffs Library’s life,” Ms. Murphy said. “Only the best things can happen from now on . . . that was how I sold Zoe on coming here.”
“The library I grew up in was really quiet,” said Ms. Pechter, 35, who remembers going to her local library to do research papers and little else. “I spent a lot of time using a bookstore like it was a library, hanging out and reading.”
The bookstore connection will come as little surprise to those who recognize Ms. Pechter from her previous job, as proprietor of Riley’s Reads in Vineyard Haven, a children’s bookstore that was located in what is now Free Bird Market. Ms. Pechter owned Riley’s Reads for nearly eight years, gaining a core group of readers who came as much for Ms. Pechter’s astute book recommendations as for a visit with Riley, her cocker spaniel and the store’s namesake.
“I certainly had a great following of people that I miss terribly and were really fantastic,” Ms. Pechter said, noting that she’s already seen many familiar faces in the children’s room.
“I loved the part of the store where I was talking to people and connecting kids with books and famiies with books,” she continued. “But the part of the store that I didn’t love was budgets and 24 hours running the business by myself.”
Riley’s Reads was a one-person show and over time, as the economy worsened, books from a bookstore became a luxury item, Ms. Pechter said.
She started volunteering in the children’s room of the West Tisbury Library. Children’s librarian Nelia Decker was the first to suggest she go to library school, a perfect way to mesh her interest in children’s literature. Ms. Pechter applied and was accepted to Simmons College in Boston.
“I sort of made the mental leap that . . . the store had to close and that this was my new thing,” she said. The timing was bittersweet, and not just because of the economic downturn. Riley passed away last year.
“I had never imagined owning that store without him,” Ms. Pechter said. “I don’t think I could have gone to work without him, and explained to people [what happened] . . . so it was like things happen the way they’re supposed to happen.”
Ms. Pechter and a friend attending nursing school in Boston shared an apartment in the city while they attended classes. But she was largely a commuter, spending three days on the Island each week with her boyfriend and returning to the city for her classes. The commute extended through the summer. By taking summer classes, Ms. Pechter was able to complete her coursework in a year and a half instead of the full two years.
As she was preparing to graduate, the job in Oak Bluffs opened up.
“It was really unbelievable timing for me,” she said.
Though it’s been less than three weeks since she started her newest endeavor, Ms. Pechter said she’s excited by the possibilities for new programming in the children’s room. The Dig Into Reading summer program kicks off July 2, and a spate of activities are planned for the rest of the summer, including the ever-popular Stuffed Animal Campout, and visits from police officers, local authors and Amelia Bedelia.
“Reading to me is all about access,” Ms. Pechter said “However you get to it, I just want you to be happy doing it”
“Just like the bookstore, people are really happy when they come to the library...it’s nice to be part of that transaction,” she said. “I like that I can be part of the positive.”