Book-loving Red Bankers of a certain vintage may experience a bit of deja vu when visiting the public library these days: it seems the institution’s new director looks a lot like the woman who owned a long-departed downtown used bookstore, Twice Sold Tales.
That’s because, of course, the two women are one and the same: Mary Faith Chmiel.
Chmiel, 57, of Tinton Falls, returned to town after a dozen years absence, this time taking up working residence among the racks on West Front Street, her bookstore having given way to a Starbucks early in the days of the first Internet browser. She was hired as the library’s new director in October, replacing Deborah Griffin-Sadel, who departed under unexplained circumstances in January.
redbankgreen pulled Chmiel aside for a quickie interview during a meet-the-director event hosted by the Friends of the Red Bank Public Library earlier this month.
redbankgreen: When was Twice Sold Tales in Red Bank?
Chmiel: From 1983 to 1995. It started as a used bookstore, but as bookstores went away, I started to get a little into new books.
redbankgreen: From there you went into the library field?
Chmiel: Yes, I got my degree in library science from Rutgers and spent 12 years in Spotswood. But first I spent about a year and a half with three part-time library jobs: Monmouth County, Brookdale and here.
redbankgreen: What does it mean to you to be back here?
Chmiel: It means a lot. To me, it’s like coming home. It was my hometown library for 20 years when I lived in Red Bank, and it’s really fabulous to be back here.
redbankgreen: So you spent 12 years at the bookstore, 12 years in Spotswood. Does that mean you’ll be here for another 12?
Chmiel: Wouldn’t that be great? Yeah. There’s a lot to do here, there’s a lot of opportunity here, there’s a really rich and exciting community, and it would be wonderful to make our library as rich and as exciting as the rest of the community.
redbankgreen: In the 12 years or so that you’ve been in the library field, we’ve seen the ascendance of the Internet, and a lot of people are wondering, ‘What’s the point of a library?” What is the point of a library nowadays?
Chmiel: Well, I think if you look around, you’ll see that it brings together a community of people who don’t need to spend their entire lives looking at a screen. People come to us to access screens, but I think a library is also about community, it’s about sharing, it’s about your book club, it’s a place for people to get together and share whatever it is they have to share.
redbankgreen: Do you envision that the digital world will eclipse the printed world? And will libraries have a place in it?
Chmiel: I think that there will always be a place for print. I think there’s a lot to be said for digital: we have two Nooks here, we have an iPad, and I think that’s all important. But I don’t think it will necessarily supplant the printed book, no matter your age, because there’s still something about sitting with a child and a picture book and turning the page and having each page be a new surprise. It’s not quite the same on the screen.
redbankgreen: What do you see as the big challenges for this library in particular?
Chmiel: We definitely want to bring more children into the library. We have story times, we want more people bringing their children in for those. We want more young adults YAs. And we want people to know that we’re not just books. I’m working really hard and refreshing our collection, because the collection had gotten really dated. So I want people to know that there are exciting new elements to our collection, but that we’re not just about books, either.
redbankgreen: Are you doing anything in particular to reach out to the Hispanic community?
Chmiel: That is definitely one of our goals. We have a Spanish collection, but I want to build it up a little bit more. We want to do more outreach to the Spanish-speaking community with our bilingual storytime program, which has kind of fallen by the wayside because we don’t have a bilingual member on staff right now, but that would probably be something we’d want to pursue in the future. We can also show Spanish-language movies, and that’s another thing we’d like to do as well.
redbankgreen: Is there anything on the horizon with regard to capital programs?
Chmiel: I don’t think so. We’ve moved our New Jersey collection upstairs; it’s now in a locked room. So we’ll be able to do things with the front room, which is just gorgeous. I’d really like to make that a quiet reading room that people can just go in there with their laptops or books and enjoy the quiet on either side of the fireplace. So there are some things that involve a little bit of funding, but mostly, it’s just using our own creativity.
redbankgreen: Speaking of funding, I understand you’re sitting on a big bundle of cash.
Chmiel: (Laughing) Me, personally? Wouldn’t that be wonderful.
It’s an unfounded rumor. The library does have some endowment funds, but they are not astronomical. It’s not inappropriate that we have those. They were set aside for particular things, not for the general operation of the library, which is still the municipality’s responsibility. They’re set aside for things like the children’s room, for programs. There are two other endownments and I’m not sure of their purpose, but they were not meant for the day-to-day operation. They’re meant to enhance the mission of the library.