Mary Lou Carolan is the Newburgh Free Library’s new director, which comes after the retirement of Chuck Thomas from the position. Carolan brings her unique background of non-profit management work and other library experience to the position. She expects her community-centered approach will lend itself to further growth of the library, even during the unexpected times of a pandemic.
“I come to this field as my second line of work,” said Carolan. “For nearly 20 years, I managed an assortment of non-profit organizations. I have always been community focused, looking to solve problems, give voice to the voiceless and provide access to information and services.”
Carolan has been the assistant library director at the Newburgh Free Library since 2018 and before that she was the director of the Wallkill Public Library for 11 years and then the director of the Cornwall Public Library from 2012 to 2018.
“I decided this was the field for me because I felt I really could create community-centered libraries – dynamic community learning centers,” said Carolan. “That became my passion and it blended the two career paths in my life into one unique package with the public library.”
When the assistant director position at the Newburgh Free Library became available she knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“I really thought it was a great way to get acclimated to a large inner-city library and see how my community-centered skills would benefit a community that I’ve loved since I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley,” said Carolan.
Carolan is a native New Yorker who was raised on Long Island. Her non-profit work was around the country, but she returned to New York in 2001 where she began volunteering at the Wallkill Public Library. Shortly after, she pursued a master’s degree in library and information science.
During her time as assistant director, she was able to accomplish her goal of building community relationships to strengthen her impact on the library. She spent time involved in the census and focused on the library’s system.
“It was an awesome opportunity for me to meet members of the community because our Newburgh Complete County Committee was comprised of representatives from 35 different organizations,” said Carolan. “I was able to hit the ground running and get to do what I love to do the most which is meet people, connect and see how we can work together.”
One of her biggest accomplishments as assistant director was securing the temporary acquisition of the Wesley Wofford sculpture of Harriet Tubman for the library plaza last fall. The entire project included developing a committee of community members to create special programming and community conversations inspired by Tubman’s legacy of courage, freedom and truth. More recently, they launched their bridge talk programming, where community members can come together for difficult conversations, which started in January and will go until June.
As director, she plans to continue her blended community approach and create even more access for residents where she is able, especially during a “physically disconnected time,” due to the pandemic.
“We are creating so many strong connections digitally and when we are able to open up again we’re going to blossom,” said Carolan. “We are very excited.”
Carolan hopes to continue to build upon the library where people understand it is more than just a physical space, but instead a way to create widespread community engagement. During the pandemic, they were out in the city to inform people of the library’s resources and connected students with online services. Additionally, the library is currently looking into creating WiFi hotspots outside of their building for those who need internet access.
“The library is responsive to what the concerns and needs are for the community and provide services to meet those needs,” said Carolan.
With having to get creative with the pandemic, the library began to offer curbside services, which Carolan said they plan to continue post-pandemic because of how beneficial it has been for city residents.
More recently, the library has partnered with the City of Newburgh for a Small Business Bootcamp, which is a four-part free workshop for residents to consider starting their own business. Other unique programs include the Newburgh Girls Code Club, which allows young community members to be a part of an extracurricular program that focuses on STEAM-based learning.
“My focus is community collaboration and I always feel like we are stronger together,” said Carolan. “We become the catalyst as a library but we are bringing in other resources.”