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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Aug 10, 2017

Managing Red Bank Library is a Tall Order

Mr. Michael E. Gordon, a member of the Foundation Board of the Eisner Memorial Library in Red Bank, took particular interest in an article that was recently published in The Journal. He explained, in a tribute that he authored and sent to The Journal:

The May issue of The Journal contained an inspiring account (“Big Things Come from a Small Package”) of the distinguished career of Renee Swartz, a librarian (and chair of the Monmouth County Library Commission) whose considerable professional accomplishments appear incongruous with her small stature. Reading this piece brought to mind another librarian. Elizabeth McDermott, director of the Eisner Memorial Library in Red Bank since 2015, is distinguished by her tall, slender stature and commensurate lofty accomplishments. Ms. McDermott’s background and personal qualities suit her for the director’s position.

“She is one of our own,” opined Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna. Her roots moved Ms. McDermott to create a library for everyone in this area, not just the intellectual elite, according to the mayor. Borough Administer Stanley Sickels concurs, saying, “She improved the library’s position as a resource in the community.” Her devotion to this community is manifest in the development of the library’s Local History Room, for which she has raised funds, organized displays, planned history programs, and enlarged the collection, resulting in a rich assemblage of information.

Following graduation from Mount Holyoke College, Ms. McDermott embarked on a business career that culminated in 13 years of employment with ORACLE Corporation as a computer software implementation specialist. Completion of a Master of Library and Information Science from Rutgers University added to her technical know-how. Unquestionably, Ms. McDermott’s background affords an invaluable perspective on the 21st-century digital world in which public libraries must provide resources and services for tech-savvy patrons.

Successful management is based on trust. With respect to Ms. McDermott, this means “doing what she says she is going to do,” according to Barbara Iwanski, a founding member of the Friends of the Library. For example, when a crew was unavailable to pick up a dictionary podium that Ms. Iwanski was donating to the library, Ms. McDermott and an associate handled the job on the appointed day instead. Her words are “golden” because she backs them up with appropriate action.

Most individuals form impressions of Ms. McDermott based on her director’s demeanor: measured, articulate, knowledgeable, and helpful. But there is another side to her known to those of us who deal with her in less formal circumstances. She has a sharp wit that can cloak exchanges in pointed, playful banter. For example, when I bemoaned the difficulty in finding a mutually agreeable meeting time for members of the Foundation Board, Ms. McDermott urged me on as follows: “You are doing an amazing job of trying to corral the wild horses. One in, another escapes.” Humorous metaphors stoke my volunteerism.

Managing a library in Red Bank requires dealing with issues peculiar to this community. New Jersey’s public libraries receive financial support raised by taxation equal to one-third of a mill on every dollar of assessable property within the municipality. In the case of Red Bank, its churches, schools, and hospital promote the community’s quality of life. However, these institutions are tax exempt properties not incorporated in ratable revenues and, therefore, reduce the public funds received by the library. Financial difficulties experienced by the library in 2014 resulted in the loss of staff and cutbacks in operating hours. Working with the library’s Board of Trustees and the Red Bank Borough Council, Ms. McDermott was able to enlarge the staff from five persons to 14, and restore the hours of operation from 20 hours per week to the current 41. To deal with future financial exigencies, a strategic plan was developed to guide expenditures of both public and privately-raised monies. “She is doing a great job, given her resources,” according to Mr. Sickels.

Another Red Bank issue involves maintenance of the stately building that houses the library. Located on beautiful property with stunning views of the Navesink River, the Eisner homestead was deeded to the borough in 1937 to serve as a library. Although still a handsome edifice, it requires that Ms. McDermott play an engineering role to deal with both structural and aesthetic concerns inside and outside of the building.

Staying abreast of the evolving requirements of their communities and patrons is the primary challenge confronting public librarians. Ms. McDermott must alter the public’s mindset that “libraries are obsolete or nice to have” to “libraries are essential,” and change the perception that “libraries are just quiet places to do research, find a book, and read” to “libraries are centers of their communities: places to learn, create, and share, with the help of library staff and the resources they provide,” as stated by the American Library Association in launching their new public awareness campaign

Managing these towering institutional transformations is a tall order, especially since these changes must be achieved while tackling a myriad of day-to-day responsibilities. According to James Whyte, president of the library’s trustees, “All this needs to be addressed in a finite amount of time, which may be the biggest challenge.”

At the height of this era of institutional transformation, Ms. McDermott has risen to reset the boundaries of collaborative community engagement that are critical to our society. In Mr. Whyte’s estimation, “I am very grateful to have her as Library Director.”