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A day in the life of a public library director

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By Rachel Christian

For Marissa Priddis, Director at the Alexandrian Public Library, no two days are the same.

The self-described “loud librarian” has served as APL’s enthusiastic director for 10 years now. She said there are many pre-conceived notions about libraries and the librarians who work there.

“We’re not the typical stuffy, stuck-in-our-ways librarians people sometimes imagine,” Priddis said. “We embrace technology and that allows us to offer even more resources to our patrons.”

Libraries serve as a place where residents can get some of their most difficult questions answered on a variety of subjects. One of the most valuable traits a librarian can have, Priddis said, is a wide knowledge base.

“We have to be generalists,” she said. “You never know what questions will come to you at the reference desk.”

Priddis first became interested in becoming a librarian as a student at Indiana University Bloomington. She worked in the main academic library, and went on to earn her Masters Degree in library science from IU. A native of Columbus, Indiana, Priddis moved to Mount Vernon 14 years ago to work at APL.

On one of her first days at the reference desk, Priddis said she was confronted with different questions from patrons.
“One gentleman came in wanting to know the going rate of copper,” she said. “Another asked what books I would recommend to a non-reader. You really never know what to expect.”

There are numerous aspects involved in keeping a 22,000 square foot library in working order, but Priddis’ favorite aspect of the job is expanding APL’s materials collection.

A voracious reader, Priddis said she still loves choosing which best selling books, popular DVDs and other materials to purchase for the library.

“The purpose of a public library is to provide things people want to read, watch and listen to,” Priddis said. “It’s about fulfilling those community needs.”

In a 21st century world, the library is a place where patrons bring their tablets, laptops and cell phones to conduct research. It’s also a place where older citizens often go to learn how to use computers and other technology.

Embracing these changes and utilizing social media are two ways the APL and other libraries have remained relevant in the Digital Age.

“To me, especially in Mount Vernon, the library serves as kind of a third space,” Priddis said. “Everyone has home and work. But where is that third place where everyone is welcome, where there are no membership fees? It’s the library. We want to be that place everyone feels welcome when they go here.”

Priddis said one reason she chose to work at a public library versus an academic one is because she wanted to help as many people as possible on a daily basis. Whether it’s bringing engaging guest speakers to the library, or coming up with hands-on activities in the children’s section, Priddis loves the idea of enriching the lives of Mount Vernon residents every day.

“I want the APL to be a community touchstone,” Priddis said. “I want us to give people the help they need. That’s a big part of the job description – helping people.”