By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff | Posted: Saturday, December 19, 2015 8:00 am
The title of her new blog is LibrarianReboot. (www.librarianreboot.net)
And that’s fitting because, in a sense, what Catherine S. Callegari’s about to do is as much of a reboot for her as it is a time for reflection and adventure.
After 10 years as Troy’s public library director, and at the age of 44, Callegari has decided it’s time to take a mini break before she begins the next chapter of her life — wherever and whatever that may be.
She’s taking a cross-country road trip.
The plan is for the outgoing Gay-Kimball Library director’s blog to capture it all for interested readers, and especially for the students at Troy Elementary School. In her quest over the past decade to promote the importance of reading, creativity, learning and community in this rural town of about 2,100 people, Callegari has been as much a part of these students’ lives as they have been of hers.
Bethany S. Rafail, a reading specialist at the school, encouraged her to start the blog so students could follow her progress as she makes her way across the United States. She’ll also send postcards so students can track her travels on a map of the country.
“I plan to be on the road two to six months, or until I run out of money,” Callegari said. “I’m so excited. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I graduated college, but didn’t have the money or the savvy at the time.”
She’ll start by traveling down the East Coast to first visit her sister in South Carolina. She’ll then head to Florida to visit her mother. Then it’s through the South and along the West Coast. Along the way, she’ll visit with friends, see some sights, and of course visit libraries. She anticipates her journey will also include some camping and hiking.
“I’m not leaving because I’m not still energized and excited by my job. This is a great town to work in,” Callegari said of Troy. “I just don’t want to be here so long I become complacent.”
This is the longest she’s stayed at any job, “and that is a true testament to the great people of Troy,” she added.
Callegari began planning her “exit strategy” two years ago. During that time, she has sold her Troy house, gotten rid of many of her possessions or put them in storage, prepared the library for its transfer to a new director, bought a Toyota Prius and parted with her two beloved cats, Adam and Steve. The duo, whom she had for six years, are now under the guardianship of a library patron and “spoiled rotten,” Callegari said with a smile.
“Parting with those kitties was the most heartbreaking thing I had to do,” she said. “But they’re still in town and I can visit them. I also got to cat-sit them a couple months ago.”
Callegari’s last day at the Gay-Kimball Library will be Jan. 15. She will be replaced by Stephanie Charlefour of Michigan, who will start Jan. 4. Callegari said the plan is to have some overlap between her and Charlefour to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Rafail said she’s sad to see Callegari leave, but knowing her, this is the way she’d go.
“She’s a firework trapped in a tiny librarian’s body. She’s just so kindhearted, warm, funny, personable and always brimming with the next best thing. I love that she is totally immersed in the literacy world,” Rafail said.
Callegari, a Maine native, came to Troy after working in the San Antonio library system for four years. While she was looking to come back to New England, she described applying for the Troy job as a “fluke.”
“I applied on the second-to-last day before they closed the application period,” she said. “Originally, being a library director wasn’t on my radar, but I liked the feel of the town, library and board of library trustees, so I decided to take the job when I was offered it.”
To Callegari, a library is the heart of any community and a resource for its residents; with that philosophy in mind, she set to work building up the Gay-Kimball Library to be that for Troy.
She brought back the ice cream social, and started a new annual tradition where families can come to the library one day in February for a free lunch that includes a bowl of hot soup.
She continued to expand the Gay-Kimball’s collection of books and movies, and, like library directors nationwide, sought to make sure library patrons have access to technology and online resources.
About two years ago, she had a book-return box installed at the Troy Elementary School. To this day, she wonders why she didn’t think of it sooner.
“It’s brilliant,” she said. “It makes it easier for the kids, and even their parents, to return their books because they’re right there.”
Then there is the library’s website, which has become a place for residents to view selectmen meeting minutes and keep tabs on the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project. Callegari said she’s been working closely with the selectmen’s office and conservation commission to gather the information, and sees having it on the library’s website as filling a void in the town.
The more traditional library initiatives of story time and the summer reading program have flourished under Callegari’s oversight, but she also knows that to promote reading, you have to think outside the box. That involves looking to what other libraries in the state and around the country are doing, and coming up with her own ideas, too.
In a meeting room away from the bookshelves and circulation desk, children can build with Legos and play video games on the Nintendo Wii. Around them, a local artist’s work is displayed on the white walls.
As the children enjoy their games, Callegari said she’ll sometimes slip them books to take home and read. She usually starts with something about Legos or video games.
She’s worked closely with staff at the Troy Elementary School to organize trips to the library, and make sure every student there has a library card.
“That was a big deal the first year I did that,” she said.
She said when she interacts with the students at the school, they become curious about the library and want to visit it. Sometimes they’ll bring their families.
“We have a lot of parents who bring their children (to the library), but that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s the other way around,” she said.
Last week, Callegari met with students at the school to tell them about her trip and to say goodbye. It was bittersweet, she said.
Rafail said has known Callegari for three years, and said she’s been instrumental in contributing to school staff’s efforts to promote literacy. The students love Callegari, and they shed a few tears after she announced she’d be leaving, Rafail said.
“When I started here there wasn’t a very strong connection between the school and the town library,” Rafail said. “Catherine and I individually knew we wanted that, and when we came in contact, we said, Let’s meet and get working on this.’ With the town being as small as it is, and the school and library being as close as they are, it was a natural connection waiting to happen.”
The Troy community faces a lot of challenges, and having the library as a place for families to go that is free, quiet and safe is important, she said.
Callegari often attends the school’s community meetings where she talks to students about upcoming library events and programs, Rafail said.
“She’s donated her time left and right to the students in our community,” Rafail said. “She’s just so willing to make the connections necessary.”
Callegari said she plans to take only what she needs on her road trip, and that will include a stack of books to read along the way.
She loves to read in her spare time, as well as being outdoors. Every vacation she has taken since coming to Troy has been a road trip, she said, but on a much smaller scale than what she is about to embark on.
As a librarian, she likes to be organized and have a plan, but as a challenge to herself, she’s trying not to overthink it and to have time to be spontaneous.
However, she has written places she’d like to visit on three-by-five index cards organized by state.
“I tried to color-code them, but there weren’t enough colors,” she said, jokingly.
Included on her cards are the National Orphan Trail Complex in Kansas, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Redwood National Park in California, the Great Basin in Nevada, Denali National Park in Alaska, New Orleans and Portland, Ore.
“Who knows what will happen? It will be a mystery and and adventure,” she said.
And while she expects to make new acquaintances along the way, she said she’ll miss the people of Troy.
“It sounds stupid and cliche, but it’s the actual truth,” she said.
As a parting gift to the town — and with the approval of the library trustees — she forgave, on Dec. 1, everyone’s overdue book fines they ever accumulated at the library.
“It’s the least I can do,” she said.
At a glance: Catherine S. Callegari
By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff | Posted: Saturday, Dec 19, 2015 8:00 am
Name: Catherine S. Callegari
Hometown: Born in Maine; Troy resident since 2005
Places lived: Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah and Vermont.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in social anthropology from the University of Maine, master’s degree in library science from the University of Rhode Island.
Occupation: Library director at the Gay-Kimball Library in Troy.
Hobbies: Reading, hiking and horseback riding.
Question: What is your favorite book and why?
Answer: “Asking me to choose my favorite book is like asking me to choose my favorite children. I can’t. That being said, I read “The Water Knife” this year by Paolo Bacigalupi and it was absolutely brilliant, as was “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande.”
In an email, Callegari added that her favorite authors are Bacigalupi, Neil Gaiman, Nevada Barr, Margaret Atwood, Chris Bohjalian, Sara Paretsky, Katherine Paterson and Jamie Ford.
Question: What made you want to become a librarian?
Answer: “I worked in bookstores all through college. After college I thought maybe I should go into the library field. I liked working with books, but I didn’t like the selling part. Being a librarian is the best of both worlds.”