Library director headed for Maine

>Sampson has been in role for 11 years

MILFORD – Michelle Sampson loves libraries, and she also loves the ocean. So when she learned from a friend on Facebook that the York Public Library in Maine was looking for a new director ,she applied for the job.

"I thought it would be crazy not to throw my hat in the ring," she said last week.

That was last winter, and after what she calls a very intense interview process, the York library trustees decided to hire her. In August, Sampson will leave the Wadleigh Memorial Library, where she has been director for 11 years, to start her new job in Maine.

Library directorships rarely open up, she said, and generally people hold the position until they retire, which is what happened in Maine.

Before coming to Mil­ford, Sampson was as­sistant director of the Dover Town Library in Massachusetts, and when she moved here, she had every intention of staying for the duration.

"I had moved a lot and wanted to put roots down," she said. Working in Dover had involved a long commute, but Mil­ford was more affordable, and she bought a house and got involved with the community – she’s an ac­tive member of the Mil­ford Rotary Club.

"It’s been nice. It was a really difficult deci­sion," she said. "They of­fered the position to me the day after Labor Day, and I took a week to think about it."

York is a popular seaside resort with a year-round population similar to Mil­ford’s that swells to about 52,000 in the summer.

It also has a relatively new library, only 13 years old, so trying to pass a building project will not be one of her challenges in York. Milford trustees have been struggling to get the town to fund a new library.

Sampson said she had been gearing up for "Round 3." Now she thinks it might be helpful to have a new director with fresh eyes on the issue.

"I am still convinced," she said, that the trustee’s plan is the best, because it gives Milford the small­est and least expensive option.

Sampson’s "innovative approach" to new tech­nology was one of the rea­sons she was hired, and in Milford she embraced the "maker space" concept.

Wadleigh was the second library in New Hampshire to acquire a 3-D printer, and it attract­ed people who would not typically go to a library.

The printer is heavily used, and it’s brought in a whole different caliber of foot traffic," she said, and remembers that a physi­cal therapy student used the printer to make and study hand bones.

Digitalizing the Farm­ers Cabinet and early edi­tions of The Cabinet is another innovation. The digital copies of the news­papers should be online in another month or two, allowing people to read them on their home com­puters.

Library patrons can learn nearly 100 lan­guages online, Sampson said, and the library now carries thousands of elec­tronic books and digital magazines.

York’s library has a newer building, but it is not as busy a library as Milford and it has a smaller budget – half of Wadleigh’s budget, and with only about nine em­ployees, compared to 23 in Milford.

After spending a year or so getting to know the community, Sampson plans to begin a strategic planning process – "one of the best ways to know the strengths and weak­nesses" of an institution, she said.

Wadleigh went through strategic planning three years ago, Sampson said, and it brought together a broad cross-section of the community, including senior citizens, teenag­ers, college students and school and town officials – and it resulted in the building plan.

Portsmouth Public Li­brary Director and York resident Steve Butzel was on the committee that conducted a national search to replace York’s retiring director.

So Sampson borrowed that idea of enlisting a library expert to help Wadleigh’s board of trust­ees hire her replacement. Cara Barlow, director of the Derry Public Library and a Milford resident, will be on the committee.

Sampson’s last day will be Friday, Aug. 19, and there will be an open house from 3-5 p.m. at the library for anyone who would like to drop in. There will be light re­freshments.