RED BANK: LIBRARIAN FINDS HER PLACE

New library Director Virginia Papandrea hopes to draw more teenagers to the facility, she says. (Photo by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)

By WIL FULTON

Meet Virginia Papandrea, the newly installed director of the Red Bank Public Library. While she made many stops in her career before taking the helm of the borough’s literary and historical center, a desire to end up in a town like this one has always been in the back of her mind, she says.

“For my whole life, I’ve always wanted to work for a small-town, public library close to the ocean,” she said. “I guess you can say that I’ve fulfilled a dream by coming here.”

Born in Albany, Papandrea earned a masters n public administration from the University of Albany before serving as an administrator at library schools all over the country, including SUNY Albany, Wayne State University in Detroit, Pratt Institute in NYC, and Stony Point University, along the banks of the Hudson River. Eventually, though, she decided to leave the college world behind and focus on her lifelong dream.

“At a certain point, I found that I needed to leave academia and work for a public library, which is really what I’ve always wanted to do,” Papandrea said.

Her wish was granted in the form of an outreach coordinator position at the Lakewood branch of the Ocean County Public Library, a job she held for three years before filling in as interim director at the Red Bank library from January to September in 2011.

“After my interim role in Red Bank ended, I worked as an interim director at the Roxbury Library in Morris County,” she said. “It was colder and hillier up there, I’ll tell you that much. I’m happy to be back in Red Bank,” she added with a laugh.

Papandrea was called back as interim library director after her predecessor, Mary Faith Chmiel, was squeezed out under unexplained circumstances in October. Papandreas was approved by the borough council as director – no longer “interim” – last month, and stepped into the job February 1.

“I’m finally on the payroll,” she said. “That actually reminds me: I need to change the signature on my email.”

Papandrea said she was excited for the chance to help the institution establish a new vision and direction in the upcoming years and to participate in the lively community of Red Bank.

“Red Bank is a small-town, but it definitely has that urban vibe,” she said. “I’m a city person – I’ve always lived in the city and I’ve always wanted to live in the city. Red Bank gives me that urban flavor that I crave, but in a town and community small enough for us to really be a central hub and feel as though we are part of the community at large.”

As she took redbankgreen around the spacious lower-level of the library, dedicated to children’s books and activities, she detailed the many classes, programs and community outreach projects the library hosts.

“We have so much going on here besides the obvious resources,” she said. “From ESL classes, to writers’ and artists’ workshops, to yoga classes and even an anime club for teens and young adults, the schedule never ends.”

Papandrea expressed a desire to turn the library into a place where people – particularly teenagers – can come and relax, work or indulge in their creativity, using the many resources available. She also expressed concern over the struggling financial state of the public library, which depends heavily on charity donations and fundraisers, including the recent used-book sale. At the start of the year, the library was forced to cut its operating hours because of budget issues.

“We are not doing well financially, unfortunately,” she said. “But with the help of groups like the Friends of the Red Bank Public Library, we are able to stay afloat.”

Despite the hardship, Papandrea said she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“I’m so happy to be able to work with a wonderful staff, amazing volunteers, and a great board of trustees,” she said. “Honestly, I am extremely thrilled to be here.”