Katie Clukey stands on the steps of Zadoc Long Free Library in Buckfield with 4-year-old volunteer Molly Henley-Nicholson. Submitted photo

A volunteer six years ago at the tiny Zadoc Long Free Library in Buckfield, Katie Clukey is now the library director.

Clukey, raised in Pownal, credits her mother for her love of books and reading. The library, built in 1901, serves the towns of Buckfield, Sumner and Hartford.

How did you come to do your line of work? My background is in early childhood education. I’ve always loved children and the value of education and reading. I taught pre-school and kindergarten for many years in Portland. When I moved to Buckfield around six years ago one of the things I was most excited about was that it had a gorgeous little library as part of its community. I was between jobs and decided to see if there were any volunteer opportunities. I worked as a volunteer for more than a year and was then hired as the assistant director. A year after that, the director position opened. This January I will have been director for four years. I had never considered a career in library sciences before, but I was in heaven. I had found a job which combined my love of children and education with my love of books. I also really loved my new community and was excited I had found another way to help people and hopefully make their lives better.

What is a typical day like for you at the library? One of the coolest things about being the director of a small-town library is that you get to be involved in all aspects of the library in a really hands-on way, so every day is different, and it never gets boring. A typical day before COVID-19 would include patrons coming in and out for a variety of reasons. Lots would come in for books or movies and just browse or ask for our recommendations. We are also part of the Inter-Library Loan system, which means we can borrow books from other libraries for our patrons. That’s a very important service for us as a small library because we don’t have enough space for all the books we would love to have. We also had a lot of people come in with computer and printing or photocopy needs. Although technology isn’t my strong suit, I can still usually figure out how to help. There was also generally a program going on in either the afternoon or evening. Sometimes a kid’s craft program or one of the book clubs would meet. In bigger libraries you might just be a children’s librarian or tech; in a small library like ours you get to wear all the hats. That is one of my favorite parts of the job.

How does the library impact the town? Although I absolutely adore books, it’s the needs of the people in those communities that make what we do so important. The services we provide are greatly needed. From the patron who needs a new book recommendation, to the person applying for a job with no computer access at home or the parents looking for fun activities for their children to participate in, we provide all of that. Technology has a huge impact on the community as well. Many patrons in our area don’t have computers or printers at home or have no access to the internet. In this digital age so much is done by computer, and without our services many people would be out of luck. I also like to describe us as a community center. We are a central part of the community where information can be gathered, fun can be had and socialization can take place.

Katie Clukey, the library director of Zadoc Long Free Library in Buckfield, reads to one of her volunteers, 4-year-old Molly Henley-Nicholson. Submitted photo

Have you always had an interest in books and reading? Who encouraged you to read? I’ve had a love of reading from as young as I can remember. This is all thanks to my mom who is the smartest and most creative person I know. She was a middle school special education teacher who instilled a love of reading and the importance of education in me from a very young age.

How has COVID-19 affected your job as library director? We’ve really had to think outside the box to still provide services, programming and fun to our patrons, while also keeping them and ourselves safe. We had to close in the spring and that was incredibly hard. Prior to the pandemic we had made great strides at the library, increasing our patronage and library circulation by more than 30%. All that momentum stopped. We also had to go to curbside service only, which is difficult because it means no one is allowed in the library. Although we do have an online catalog for patrons to browse and request materials, it is still very hard because most people like to browse for books in person, especially children. That also means no computer use for people, which is something our community utilizes often. We can still print items for people or photocopy, but many people don’t have any access to a computer at all outside the library. We have also had to suspend all programming, which we had also made vast improvements on prior to the pandemic. We offered a wide range of adult and children’s programming, including book clubs, fiber arts, a writer’s group and author talks. We also offered monthly children’s crafts programs and story times. We were a hub of activity, and I do have to say the weirdest part is how quiet it always is now. Even when we have been fully open this year, we still allowed no more than five people at a time in the building. We also require masks and social distancing, and we have had reduced hours to make extra time for cleaning. Books, movies and other materials are quarantined for three days before being put back into circulation. It’s been a very different and difficult year, but I think we have pulled together well and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my Deputy Director Kathy Hladik, our Library Committee members and myriad volunteers — my favorite little volunteer being a girl named Molly, who is the official “assistant to the librarian.” Without these people I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, and together we make the library a much better place.

What’s the last book that you read? Do you recommend it? One of the last books that I have read was “The Institute” by Stephen King. Although King isn’t my typical genre, I would highly recommend this book. It is more on his psychological thriller side of things and is extremely well written. It has so many different layers to the story and is a real page-turner. I couldn’t wait to finish it and find out how it ended.

In your free time, what sorts of activities have you been doing to keep sane during the pandemic? The main things that have kept me sane are the library and reading. I really love my job at the library and focusing on that has helped me through this difficult time. It is always bringing new challenges and creative opportunities. I love to help people. And to help our community during such a difficult time has made it easier to not focus on my own difficulties and hardships as much. I also read so much. It’s nice to take a break from all the crazy of the real world and immerse yourself in an entirely different world without ever leaving your living room, which is convenient since many of us can’t really leave our living rooms right now anyway. I also like to spend time outdoors hiking or swimming or just enjoying nature. That helps center me and focus on the things that really matter like my family and friends.

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