Alice Knapp may not be a new character in Ferguson Library‘s 132-year history, but she’s about to take a larger role, and will likely steer the plot in new directions.
Knapp was named president of the library recently following the June death of her predecessor, Ernie DiMattia. Such dramatic shifts in leadership often inspire the creation of selection committees and national searches, but the library’s Board of Trustees showed the wisdom to recognize and reward the contributions Knapp has already made to the city.
Ernest Abate, chairman of Ferguson’s Board of Trustees, said DiMattia had been grooming Knapp as his replacement. Still, it’s not an appointment to be taken casually. At their best, libraries are the hub of communities, but they are often taken for granted. Mayors, superintendents and police chiefs come and go, but DiMattia was at the helm for 38 years. A child who borrowed a first book during DiMattia’s rookie year on the job would now be in his or her 40s.
Knapp comes to her new role after starting her career as the head of smaller library systems and joining the Ferguson Library team as director of public services 13 years ago. In 2009, she began a four-year stint as executive director of neighboring New Canaan Library. There, she developed a strategic plan to modernize the library system, carrying on the spirit of her efforts to make Ferguson’s collection more interactive, as information was transferred from the paper page to mobile devices.
By the time she returned to Stamford as director of user services in 2013, Knapp had working knowledge of the machinations of a large library system, and an invaluable grasp of how smaller, neighboring libraries operated. She also sought new ways to develop conversations with the community that forms around the library. Knapp has recently been overseeing the launch of the Encore search system, which integrates available titles with associated resources, such as scholarly essays.
Her new job will not be easy. As Stamford continues to grow, she faces the challenge of ensuring services are available for new, burgeoning populations. She has also pledged to try to restore hours lost over the past five years as the library budget strained during a weak economy.
The mission of Ferguson has not strayed far from when it opened on Atlantic Street in 1882. It is still committed to giving patrons the best possible access to information and encouraging lifetime learning. Change was inevitable then (it would not become a free library until 1911) and it is inevitable now.
We hope Knapp will continue to embrace new ways to transform the library. After all, no matter how good a book’s plot is, it’s always nice to be surprised by the next chapter.