NAUGATUCK — After more than six years, a new face will lead the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library.
Jessica Jahnke, 41, of Storrs, took over as director of the library on Feb. 1.
Although she is new to the Whittemore Library, Jahnke has worked in libraries since she was a teenager.
“My grandmother was a librarian. I used to volunteer with her in an old, historic library when I was a teen. My aunt is also a children’s librarian. So the profession runs in my family,” Jahnke said.
Jahnke previously was the director of the Chaplin Public Library for 10 years and the director of the Wolcott Public Library for a year.
Jahnke said she wanted to work in Naugatuck, in part, because of the library itself.
“I thought it would be wonderful to work in such a beautiful library,” Jahnke said.
Library Board of Trustees Chairman Charles Marenghi said that was one of the things that made Jahnke stand out to the board.
“We were looking for that in a director — someone who had their feet in the 21st century but had respect for the tradition and beauty of the library,” Marenghi said.
Marenghi said Jahnke also impressed the board with her plans.
“She will take us into the future of where libraries are going. She has a lot of energy and knowledge. She is very much in tune with what is going on in the 21st century library world,” Marenghi said.
Jahnke is replacing outgoing director Jocelyn Miler, who has been in the position for six and a half years.
Miller, a Naugatuck resident, said she’s stepping down from her position in order to take care of personal obligations. Her official last day is Feb. 11.
Miller has worked in the library field since 1984. She began working at the Whittemore Library at the reference desk in 2003 before becoming director in 2011.
“I love working in libraries. It gets into your blood,” Miller said.
Miller said working in a library is more challenging than most people realize.
“A lot of people think you just sit there and stamp books all day. It feels like people think that the elves come in at night, do the book selection, process the books and put them on the shelves,” Miller said. “You have to be good with details, good with serving the public, welcoming, able to help them find information, respect their privacy.”
In addition to her regular duties, Miller has had to oversee a number of renovations to the building as director.
In 2012, the library finished work replacing the large rotunda in the entryway of the building and began work widening the elevator entrance and repointing the doors and windows to make the building waterproof.
“A lot of my focus was on building repairs,” Miller said. “I am actually pretty proud of what I accomplished in getting the building into the shape it is in now.”
Marenghi said Miller started as director as the rotunda project was beginning, and she was able to take the project and complete it.
“She picked up the project from the finance stage and brought it to actual implementation,” Marenghi said. “What she did was absolutely amazing.”
Marenghi said he was also impressed with how Miller was able to steer the library through a time of national economic depression when funds were limited.
“Her ability to run the library with a measured degree of austerity and not compromise our services is amazing,” Marenghi said. “You can’t say enough good things about Jocelyn.”
Jahnke said her goals as director include expanding the programming that the library offers in order to reach residents who don’t typically use the library and to create a long-term plan for the library.
Miller said one of the challenges of the job is that the Whittemore Library is an association library.
A public library is funded by a municipality. An association library receives a portion of funding from the municipality, and the rest of the money comes from its endowment and fundraising.
The borough funded 71 percent of the library’s operating budget this fiscal year. When the building needs anything, though, it is up to the director and Library Board of Trustees to see that it gets done, Miller said.
“We can’t call the town and say we need a plumber or electrician. We need to do all that ourselves,” Miller said.
Although she has never worked for an association library before, Jahnke said, she’s looking forward to the challenge.
“This will be a new experience for me,” Jahnke said. “I am looking forward to learning how it runs with both an endowment and municipal funding.”
Although she is stepping down from her role as director, Miller won’t disappear completely from the library. She plans to substitute at the reference desk sometimes.
“I think Jess is the ideal choice for this library. I really do,” Miller said. “I am confident Jess is going to build on the accomplishments I have achieved here in the last six and a half years and move the library into the modern age.”