Off the shelf with Amanda DeGiorgis
A career in academia had always been Amanda DeGiorgis' goal, but along the way, she fell in love with a student's most visited spot: the library.
"I loved doing research in archives," she recalled. "I've always loved reading. I spent a lot of time in libraries doing my Ph.D., and I'm like `Well, I think, actually, that's where I want to be.'"
DeGiorgis pursued her passion in history after graduating from Smith College, ultimately leading her to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she completed her doctorate degree in medieval history.
Overseeing the Mason Library in Great Barrington and Ramsdell Public Library in Housatonic, DeGiorgis inherits two historical buildings. According to their websites, the Mason Library was once called "the most beautiful library in America" and the Ramsdell Public Library has been open to the public for 111 years, built at the location of the first house in Housatonic.
She sees the two libraries as complementary learning spaces. "We share the collection, share staff, share resources," she said. "[We] try to have different things in each place. Ramsdell has more of an arts and crafts focus and Mason has poetry [and] local history. Mason is a much larger space, so the collection is much bigger, and we're trying to focus Ramsdell's [collection] to be popular fiction, but then also looking at art [and] art classes."
DeGiorgis took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.
Q: What books are you currently reading?
A: I'm reading three at the moment ... I've got "American Duchess: A Novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt" by Karen Harper. I have "Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday" by Valerie Woerner, kind of a nonfiction parenting book. And then I'm reading the "The Printed Letter Bookshop" by Katherine Reay. All very different.
Q: Who's your favorite author?
A: My all-time favorite author is Diana Gabaldon. She wrote the Outlander series. It's kind of historical fiction, but also with a bit of time-travel. It's set in Scotland, so of course, I spent five years in Scotland, so I'm very tied to Scotland. But it's just really well written. It kind of just transports you along. I actually was in the middle of writing my dissertation when one of the books came out, and I stopped for two days and read that book. And then I had to catch up afterward, but it was worth it.
Q: What summer reads do you recommend?
A: It kind of depends. You get these people who like more of what I call contemporary fiction, which can be contemporary women's fiction. Elin Hilderbrand always has one out every summer. There's a couple of authors [who] always have a summer "beach read." Probably one of those. But if you're more [interested in] mystery and legal thrillers and stuff like that, they have their own group of authors. I would kind of find which road you are looking to take.
Q: What's the "Library of things" you are working on at Ramsdell Public Library?
A: It's a lending library of "stuff." We are looking at lending out weaving looms, sewing machines, virtual reality googles — stuff you might want to try out and see how it works, but don't [want to] buy. And then, we will have programs centered around telling you how to use the things.
Q: Speaking of that, what kind of services do libraries offer that people might not be aware of?
A: What we physically have in the building is not everything that we have. We're part of CWMars, which is a consortium throughout central and Western Massachusetts. So that gives you access to half a state's worth of stuff. That can be DVDs, books, language courses. I always say that what we have here is a fraction of what we actually have. If we don't have it, chances are we can get it somewhere else and it will be here within a week. That is a small little portion of what we can get for you. We do have a huge e-book and e-audio collection that I don't think people are as aware of. This means if you are commuting, you can download a book on tape on your phone and be listening to something in the car or go on a road trip. You can also, from wherever you are, download a book onto your phone. Read it, listen to it, what not.
Q: What's your favorite place to hang out at the Mason Library?
A: I like the [reading nook] because you can see into the children's garden, which is downstairs. It's kind of tucked away from the main reading room, which is also a nice place, but it tends to be a little bit busier. This is quiet. It's just peaceful place to curl up and read a book.
Q: What do wish people asked you more about?
A: How many more books there are out there. If you don't find what you're looking for, ask. I don't think people ask enough. I literally think there is something out there for everyone and if we don't have it, chances are somebody knows something that would peak your interest and could get a hold of it. It's really fun being on the circulation desk and talking to patrons and saying, 'OK, what have you been reading? Did you enjoy this? Did you not enjoy this?' And it's getting that feedback to know what I should look for to order but then also [find] things I would never have read.
Q: What's you're favorite part of this job?
A: The people. I've never realized I was a people person because I'm very introverted, but the interactions with my staff, the people who walk through these doors — that really gets me. Like hearing what they thought of a book or a suggestion that I didn't know about. Just seeing them walk away happy and excited or a book that has totally torn them to pieces and sharing that experience. That's why I've stayed in public libraries.
Q: Any memorable interactions with visitors?
A: I remember, a couple of years ago, finding a little girl a series of books that she'd never seen before, but she hadn't quite found what she wanted to read. People would keep suggesting stuff, and I found one. And she came back a couple of days later and was like, 'I want more.' [laughs] And thankfully, there were more, but it was just like, 'It clicked.' And finding that is like matching people with books as opposed to people. That's what's really fun.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: I think people underestimate libraries and should check them out more.
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