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New Canton Free Library director excited to move facility forward

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CANTON - Emily M. Owen believes public libraries should be responsive to the community members they serve.

As the new executive director of the Canton Free Library, she hopes to achieve that goal by having the library serve a wide-range of ages and interests.

“I want to make sure we’re spending money where the community needs it,” Ms. Owen said. “One of my priorities is keeping the collection relevant to the people who use it.”

She started her new job Oct. 28 after being selected from a pool of 12 applicants who were reviewed by the library’s board of directors.

Ms. Owen, a 35-year-old Pierrepont native, is enthusiastic about her new role. As director, she oversees 11 full and part-time staff members. The Canton Free Library, 6 Park St., also operates smaller branch libraries in Morley and Rensselaer Falls.

“Libraries should be a gathering place, a place where people can enjoy books, movies and games,” Ms. Owen said. “I think the Canton library is really good at that. The staff here love what they do and it shows.”

Ms. Owen replaces Carolyn “Lyn” J. Swafford, who resigned May 15 after serving as director for 14 years. Carole A. Berard had been serving as the library’s interim director and has returned to her job as assistant director.

Ms. Owen resides in Canton and previously worked as a consultant librarian for North Country Library Services, a Watertown-based agency that serves St. Lawrence, Lewis, Jefferson and Oswego counties.

As a consultant, she worked with libraries to help them become sustainable, handled some grant writing and assisted libraries with redesigning their space.

“That job helped me realize how libraries are the centers of small-town life,” she said.

Thomas A. Langen, president of the library board, said Ms. Owen was the board’s top choice.

“Emily has had a long relationship with Canton Free Library and libraries across this area,” Mr. Langen said. “She really understands the kind of issues small libraries in the north country are facing. She has great ideas about how to move us forward.”

Redesigning library space so that it can be better utilized by the public is one priority the board would like the new director to address. Upgrading the basement space is also a goal.

Ms. Owen’s connection with Canton Free Library began in 2006 when she worked as a clerk during the library’s capital renovation project. The following year she worked as an intern under Mrs.Swafford, who let her observe various aspects of running a library.

Although she received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Southhampton College, Long Island, Ms. Owen said she decided she’d rather pursue a library career.

“I’ve always been interested in libraries, and I always wanted to come back to the north county,” Ms. Owen said.”It was a goal for me to work in Canton.”

She obtained her master of library science degree from CUNY Queens and had the chance to work at five different public libraries in Long Island and New York City.

Working in urban libraries was valuable, she said, because the facilities were busy and patrons had high expectations about what libraries should provide.

“It was good to have that experience,” Ms. Owen said. “I liked experiencing the contrast with small town libraries.”

Weeding out some of the library’s outdated reference books is one of the tasks Ms. Owen has worked on since starting at Canton Free Library. Determining which material should be offered in print and what should be offered in other formats is another project.

“There are some things that can’t beat the print experience. Other things are better to access on-line,” Ms. Owen said.

The Canton library offers a wide range of programs for children, teens and adults, including storyhour, summer reading, book clubs and more.

At some point, surveys wll be distributed to community members to gather feedback about what services and programs the community would like to see at the library, she said.

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