For new director, library is more than books

Scott Murphy makes MPL an information source

Milton Public Library Director Scott Murphy (right) helps Misty Curtis (far left) of Milton check out books from the library on Friday, Jan. 11. Murphy says a library is best not just for books but to help people with all sorts of information needs, from fixing a computer to finding a job. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Milton Public Library Director Scott Murphy (right) helps Misty Curtis (far left) of Milton check out books from the library on Friday, Jan. 11. Murphy says a library is best not just for books but to help people with all sorts of information needs, from fixing a computer to finding a job. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

In this increasingly digital age, some might wonder why the majority of Milton’s voting public chose to double the size of its library, the home of more than 38,500 print titles.

But not Scott Murphy. Milton Public Library’s new director knows the library is more than a bastion for books; it’s a hub of information. And just three-and-a-half months into the job, Murphy wants to make that message known to more people.

“To me, you fill holes in the community,” Murphy said, adding, “Where do people go who don’t have access to the Internet or even to a computer? Well, they come to the public library, and that’s one of the many things we’re here for.”

Murphy, 39, started as director in October after trustees unanimously chose him after a four-month long search, Chairwoman Jen Dooley said. The library was without a formal leader since February, when the trustees terminated Heidi Cava. Murphy started at a $45,000 salary that will increase by $2,000 after a six-month probation period, his contract states.

Murphy shared the trustees’ vision of pushing book-centric libraries to be more relevant in a tech-friendly world, Dooley said.

“We wanted someone who was going to make that a priority,” she said. “It is a place where you can have access and information for everything.”

Murphy learned to appreciate all libraries have to offer while in a doctoral program in history at Ohio University. Hours of researching and paper-writing made the library feel like home.

Combined with his lifelong love of literacy (instilled by his parents, both teachers), Murphy’s coursework naturally led him to library science and the realization that free access to information is key to a successful democracy. He earned his library degree and never looked back at history.

Settling in Vermont, too, was somewhat unexpected. In June 2012, just before applying for the directorship, Murphy’s family booked a Christmastime vacation to Smuggler’s Notch. All the ski magazines he’d read heralded Vermont’s Green Mountains, but he didn’t know then he’d be living there when the holidays came.

Now working in Milton, Murphy has leveraged the library’s resources to bridge the “digital divide,” society’s unequal access to technology. He built the library’s website, miltonlibraryvt.org, and started hands-on programs that teach patrons to use anything from e-readers to the new Windows 8 operating system.

His “Tech Talk” class, named after a “Saturday Night Live” skit, is an open forum that could cover anything from accessing career-search websites or installing a video card.

“If we don’t know how, we’ll look it up,” said Murphy, who, as a broke grad student, fixed a few computers in his day. “It’s just a way for us as a community to get our brains together and solve issues.”

The trustees are pleased with Murphy’s new theme. Dooley said he hopes to set up a “technology petting zoo” where visitors can learn how to use three popular e-readers: the Kindle, Nook and iPad. Unlike salespeople, librarians don’t care if you buy one, she said.

“Their purpose is to show you how to use it to further that information trail,” Dooley said. “People can make their own decisions [on which to buy] or just come in and play.”

The modern library, especially in a down economy, is also a place to build résumés and execute job searches, Murphy said, skillsets he taught at his previous library in Ohio. While high school students have in-school counselors to help with these tasks, adults can consult librarians.

The new director has found Miltonians are receptive to his help. Dooley noted a patron stopped her at the store recently to tell her how Murphy gave every patron equal attention. Even in a world of tech, it’s nice to have a human touch.

“That is definitely how the library is going to stay relevant in the years to come,” Dooley said.

And Murphy plans to stick around for a while. He, his wife and their 4-year-old son are renting in St. Albans but spend every Sunday after church scouting for a Milton home.

“People are just great here,” he said, smiling. “[It’s a] really, really nice town.”

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