Knapp wears several hats as she leads a system still reeling from deep funding cuts, fundraising challenges.

Library history

+ 1882: The library opens on Atlantic Street. It is named for John Day Ferguson, who bequested $10,000 in 1877 to help create a public library in Stamford.

+ 1909: Ferguson moves to its current location at Broad and Bedford streets

+ 1940: Bookmobile service begins

+ 1979: Friends of The Ferguson Library incorporated

+ 1995: Ferguson becomes first public library in Connecticut to provide public Internet access

+ 2007: Library celebrates its 125th anniversary

STAMFORD — Running the Ferguson Library is a study in adaptation. Its new president is, at one time, executive, landlord and fundraiser.

Alice Knapp ran public services for Ferguson for eight years before moving to the New Canaan Library, where she was director from 2008 through the end of 2012. She returned to Ferguson as the director of user services at the beginning of 2013.

When the library’s last president, Ernie DiMattia, stepped down that year, the board found Knapp to be a natural successor. “Ernie had groomed Alice to essentially be his successor, so it was a very smooth transition,” said Ernest Abate, the library board’s chairman. Knapp took over a library system still reeling from financial upheaval. In early 2010, then-mayor Michael Pavia reduced the library’s city funding by more than 10 percent as part of a citywide round of spending cuts, resulting in reduced hours and a scramble to find money elsewhere.

“As bad as it is in Connecticut, it really is bad nationwide,” Knapp said. “When our economy got hit, our municipalities and our state governments were hit with some really hard choices, and libraries reduced funding.”

Concessions from unions representing library employees staved off some of the fallout, but the library still had to cut hours and even entire days of operations at some of its locations. Employees forewent pay increases, agreed to unpaid furloughs and began kicking in more for their health insurance, while the management took a 10 percent pay cut.

“Like our school system, our costs are labor-intensive, and we really only have three areas where we can control costs

“You have to believe in the mission of what you’re doing.” Alice Knapp, Ferguson Library president

— labor, content, facilities maintenance,” Knapp said. “To this day, we are still down six full-time people. To the best of my knowledge, those positions will never be replaced.”

Even the main branch, in the heart of downtown, shrank its business hours to cut costs.

“Up until August of last year, we weren’t opening until 11 a.m., and we were closing at 8 p.m.,” Knapp said.

Library usage has increased as the hours of operations rebounded, with 750,000 visitors last year.

Since 2010, Ferguson has ramped up its in-house fund-raising, dedicating staff hours to seeking out contributors and setting up its annual gala.

“In order to fund-raise, you have to believe in the mission of what you’re doing,” Knapp said. “No matter what your background is, you have to believe in that mission.”

This year’s gala, “A Novel Affair,” netted Ferguson $160,000. Local restaurants donated food, and Stamford native Ryan Oakes, a professional illusionist, took a train into town from Manhattan to entertain for the gala.

“The gala is our main fund-raising event,” Abate said. “Close to 10 percent of our budget we get through fund-raising and doing incidental things.”

The library this year asked the city for $8.2 million. Mayor David Martin came back with $7.9 million and the Board of Finance trimmed that down to 7.7 million. That figure puts the city’s contribution $223,350 — or three percent — higher than last year, but still less than the $7.8 million it received the year before the big cut.

Ferguson is still on the hook for finding more than $1.1 million of its roughly $8.6 million operating budget, Knapp said.

“We’ve gotten enough to help us deal with increased costs, kept us at least current with inflationary pressures, and we’re able to offer services pretty much across the board,” Abate said. “We’re a very, very busy library, the demands are extraordinary and we do the best to keep our programs functioning.”

Still, financial shortfalls continue to resonate throughout the library system.

“We’ve opened the branches longer this time period than we had in the prior year,” Abate said. “We had hoped going to the next year that we could have gone to full-time services at the branches, but we haven’t been able to.”

The library raises money through passport services and by renting space to a Starbucks coffee shop adjacent to a used-book store run by the Friends of the Ferguson Library. The Friends also raises money for some of the library’s capital expenses, like the purple bus that brings children to library programs and the Bookmobile that visits city pre-schools.

Programs at the library run the gamut from cordial “let’s talk” meetings, where English-language learners practice conversing, to business resources for entrepreneurs or job seekers.

“We are strong partners with Stamford Public Schools, both for providing them resources but also in partnering with them to make reading fun,” Knapp said. “During the last school vacation week we had a student from UConn, who is an engineering student, volunteer his time teaching students how to do (computer-aided design).”

While library cardholders who use the outer branches have found the hour reductions onerous, the proliferation of e-books and other electronic resources has eased some pressure. Cardholders can log in remotely and search for books in different formats.

“If you’re looking for ‘All the Light You Cannot See,’ you can find it in print, in book-on-CD, in large-print, as e-book — and then you can download it to read,” Knapp said.

Ferguson was ahead of the curve moving resources online, an advantage Knapp attributes to her predecessor, whom she called a “visionary.”

“We talk internally a lot about transformation here, and traditionally, that means

— and I say, still means — taking the science of being a librarian and combining it with the art,” she said. “So, when that person is in front of you and asking for that piece of information or for that book recommendation, you can point them to that right book at that right time so that it’s truly transformative.”

“It’s not just about a book,” she added. “It’s really about exchanging knowledge so that both the librarian and the person in front of them are having that transformative moment.”