Milford library chooses director

MILFORD – A library can be a place to borrow books and movies, a place to do research, a place to use a computer or even a 3-D printer.

Then there’s the idea of a public library as a living room – a community living room, a place for all kinds of people to gather, relax and enjoy themselves.

That’s the definition that Betsy Solon likes best.

Solon is the new director of the Wadleigh Memorial Library, taking the place of Michelle Sampson, who left last summer to become director of the York, Maine, public library.

She comes to Milford from the Mary E. Bartlett Library in Brentwood, where she served as director for five years.

Last week, Solon said she accomplished in Brentwood everything she had intended to do, including increasing the library’s senior citizen programming and expanding the library’s collaboration with other groups in town, including the Historical Society and Garden Club. That helped Bartlett win the title of Library of the Year from the New Hampshire Library Association.

She also worked at improving relationships with town leaders.

What she did not do in Brentwood is lead a building project, although during her tenure the basement of the building was renovated and turned into usable space for meetings, with a full kitchen and a book sale area.

Wadleigh’s building is considered overdue for renovation and has been on Milford’s capital improvement plan for many years. A $5.6 million replacement project was rejected by voters two years in a row.

Solon says she wants to see how the building’s needs fit into the needs and goals of the rest of the town.

“I’d like to form my own opinion,” she said. “A library isn’t just a building, it’s a presence in the community.”

Milford’s library “is a gem, with its staff, its trustees and its Friends of the Library,” Solon said. “I’ve seen too many times what a building project can do to a community.”

Solon will start her new job on Monday, Jan. 23. She intends to spend three or four months getting to know Milford and its elected officials.

Solon grew up in the Middletown area of central Connecticut. Her first job out of Bates College was on the Middletown bookmobile. When that service was discontinued, she worked in the main library, and was sent to take classes when the town got its first computers.

Discovering a talent for computers, so Solon got a degree in software programming and found she loved teaching people to use their PCs, so she went on to earn a master’s degree in education.

Solon lives in Brookline with her husband, Tom, who is on the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School Board. They recently sent the last of their two children off to college.

When Solon moved to Brookline, she started volunteering at the library. She was appointed assistant director and then interim director, and then found that she lacked the professional knowledge needed to be a full director. So Solon went back to school for American Library Association accreditation.

Solon said she “retired” and joined the Brookline library trustees for three years, learning more about library governance – “a 360-degree view, the big picture,” as she calls it.

At the end of her three-year term, a fellow trustee asked her to apply for the Bartlett directorship, and she was hired.

Five years later, at a library conference, Solon was encouraged by a fellow librarian to apply for the Milford position.

At first she rejected the idea. But, she said, Milford is where she does her banking, grocery shopping and veterinary visits. Her family has been involved in the annual Rotary Swim Meet and attended playgroups in Town Hall, so it felt like her community.

Milford trustees had received 30 applications from all over the United States. They interviewed 30 candidates by phone, and then brought in four for interviews.

Solon “just impressed us in every way,” trustees Co-Chairwoman Jennifer Hansen said. “She has wonderful ideas … and shares our values and visions for the future.”

Sampson left in the summer, and the library’s staff took over running the library. Solon said she was impressed by the way the staff carried on, and so was Hansen.

“It was absolutely amazing,” Hansen said. “We can’t thank them enough,” because it allowed trustees “to take their time and find the right person.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.