For Alexandra Pratt, the new director of the West Tisbury Free Public Library, the spark for her career was the simple act of being taken to the library regularly by her mother during her childhood in rural, northwestern Connecticut. Now that her dream has come to fruition on the Vineyard, she is amazed that this one Island has six incredible libraries – and grateful she has worked at five of them.

Q. How did you originally fall in love with libraries?

A. Every Sunday, growing up, my mother took us to the local library and I’d check out a huge stack of books. It’s always been a safe place for me, and a place I really loved. In college at Smith, I studied English and history, thinking I’d become an archivist, preserving historic books and documents. But I discovered being in the archives is lonely work, and I soon realized I wanted to work around people.

Q. How did you happen to come here?

A. After college, in the recession of 2009, I spent a year in New York City, just doing temp jobs and some waitressing. I decided to come to the Island, where my uncle lived, to work one summer at Morning Glory Farm. But I was immediately struck by the sense of community here, and I never left.

Q. Expand on that sense of community.

A. I feel lucky to have worked with Morning Glory Farm and the Athearn family. It’s clear how invested they are in the community, the Island, in local food and in food equity – working with the gleaners, for example, getting food that would otherwise go to waste into peoples’ homes and to the [Island] food pantry. I was also impressed that the Island has so much art and culture, despite it being essentially a small town most of the year.

Q. What did you do at Morning Glory?

A. I started as a field hand, and eventually rose to be assistant manager of the farm stand and then managed the wholesale department. I worked there until four years ago. I was considering a career change and on a whim, took a part-time job at the West Tisbury library. Within my first week, I knew I wanted to continue this as a career, and so I enrolled in library school that fall and emerged with my masters two years later in 2018.

Alexandra worked at five of the Island's six libraries before taking on the role of director of the West Tisbury library. Maria Thibodeau

Q. And you worked while you were getting your masters?

A. Yes, after leaving Morning Glory in 2016, I worked at five out of the six Island libraries and each was a great experience. I was the circulation assistant at the Oak Bluffs library, adult program coordinator at Chilmark library, and reference librarian at Vineyard Haven’s library for a year. In Edgartown I was also an assistant circulation manager for six months. I was the children’s librarian in West Tisbury before becoming director. It was the support I got from my co-workers and other directors at all the libraries that really enabled me to work more than full-time and also get my masters at the same time.

Q. How did it feel to be named head of the West Tisbury library after a nationwide search?

A. I definitely cried – tears of happiness! This is literally my dream job. It’s an honor. And every day I drive to work and am thrilled to have the privilege to not only live here in West Tisbury, but to work at what I think is the best library in the world and with my co-workers who continually go above and beyond to support each other and support the community.

Q. Libraries seem more important than ever during Covid. Do you agree?

A. Libraries today are community centers. And when we can’t meet in person physically, whatever we can offer virtually and curbside is really important. We’ve had great success with our virtual programs. People tell us the classes are their pandemic therapy; they get to learn something once or twice a week and get to see people, if only over Zoom! We also found that people who love the Island but weren’t able to make it here this summer were really thankful to have that connection too.

Q. What do you love about the work? What frustrates you?

A. I love this job because it is not only about education, entertainment and arts and culture, but it is a community service where we are helping to take care of each other. The only thing that is frustrating now is that I don’t get to see people, which is the best part of this job. I can’t wait until we can all be safely back together again.

Q. What are your big plans moving forward?

A. For the library, a new strategic plan will hopefully be coming this year and will have our goals and guidelines for how the library can continue to grow over the next five years. It will be fun to work with all the stakeholders – the Trustees, the Friends of the Library, the Foundation, the staff and the patrons – to decide what we want the future to look like.

Meanwhile, our library did just win, for the 13th year in a row I believe, a five-star rating from Library Journal. Only ten libraries in Massachusetts were given star ratings and we’re one of those. We couldn’t have done that without the support of our community.

Q. And as for your plans, do you think you’ll be staying here for the long haul?

A. Oh yes! My partner and I were very lucky. We bought a house in 2019 in the co-housing community here in West Tisbury and we are so thrilled and feel really lucky to have found housing. I am definitely here for the long haul! Paula Lyons, a former television consumer journalist, lives in Vineyard Haven.

Paula Lyons is a former television consumer journalist living in Vineyard Haven.