Library Director Virginia Vocelli’s 24 years of employment at the Avon Free Public Library bookends a period of growth and change in many ways.
“It’s been a good job. I’ve been happy here,” Vocelli said, who came to Avon after working as library manager of the Faxon Branch in the Elmwood section of West Hartford. “I was there for six years and was looking for a new challenge.”
She joined the library staff in June of 1988, six years after it relocated from Route 44 to Country Club Road – which Vocelli characterizes as the geographical center of town. She is retiring before the end of the year, months after the recent renovation and expansion.
Vocelli, who grew up in Kansas and now lives in West Hartford, said she regrets that she never saw the Route 44 library, which patrons speak of fondly. Before working for public libraries, Vocelli specialized in government documents at the state library in Hartford.
“I’ve been happy ever since,” Vocelli said, who was a library page in high school before majoring in English at Fort Hays State University in Kansas and earning her master’s degree in library and information science at the University of Denver. “I like the diversity of working in the public library and the people, the variety of services and the contact with the public.”
While Vocelli is leaving Nov. 16 to take some vacation time before her official December departure, including a trip to St. Thomas, the legacy of a good staff remains.
“You can’t achieve your goals and your objectives without a good staff,” Vocelli. “The staff and I have developed an excellent level of programs, including adult programs as well as story times and children’s programs. That’s very important to the community.”
She’s looking forward to traveling with her husband, Bob, a retired financial planner, whether it’s to Maine in the summers or day trips. Vocelli also will have more time to garden.
Vocelli and her husband often attended the Civil War programs at the library. Through researching her family history – another hobby – she learned she likely had family members on both sides of the Battle of Wilson Creek conflict. She said it’s likely she’ll attend library programs in the future.
The town is currently interviewing candidates for a new library director.
A major milestone during her employment in Avon was the recent library renovation and expansion – which all began when library officials went to the Town Council requesting to discuss their preliminary ideas for the project around 1999.
“I knew there would be delays because that’s just how it works. The library was a priority for the council, but there were other things that had to come first,” Vocelli said. “I really wanted to finish the project. When I could see the end, I thought I’d retire six months after that so I could help the library work out some of the kinks….”
She particularly enjoys the new History Room – shared with the Avon Historical Society – prominently located on the first floor. It’s the place residents can go to see old town newspaper clippings, photos and archives, as well as the latest historical display. Vocelli also is happy the library now has an art gallery on the first floor that features paintings of local artists – including many from the Farmington Valley Arts Center in Avon – to showcase their work.
Vocelli is pleased with how everything turned out, from the colorful children’s floor to the main level.
“It’s very satisfying to see how the public likes it,” she said. “The residents really like it. That’s the best thing.”
The previous renovation in the mid-1990s was “within the footprint of the building,” Vocelli said. Some of the highlights were the establishment of a separate story time room and craft area, the addition of handicapped-accessible doors, new carpeting and freshly painted walls, she said.
Vocelli has also been a large part of the technology push at the library, which first installed Internet on one computer in the early ‘90s. Only a couple staff members had email addresses then, but now most of them do. Now, the library has 50 computers for the public.
Avon joined a computerized network for checking books out – now called Library Connections – in 1985, two years before her arrival. When the library was renovated between 1995 and 1997, an Internet network was installed for the computers
“When we got rid of the card catalogue, that was a big deal,” she said of 1995.
The library added videos and compact discs to its circulation options around that time, she said.
“I remember there was a special case, a glass case, that was kept at the circulation desk to put the music CDs in, so if you wanted one, you had to ask somebody for it,” Vocelli said. “I think that was the beginning of things that were different.”
Circulation and the Amount of People Visiting the Library
Vocelli had a door counter installed at the entrance toward the beginning of her career in Avon; now the library has a wireless one. About four years ago, an average of 700 came to the building a day, she said.
In terms of circulation, about 145,000 items were checked out in 1988 in comparison to 320,000 in 2008 – a high point in the library’s history. That was in part due to the nationwide economic recession and the “gradual build-up in services” at the library. Fifty percent of the town’s “library population” had library cards, she said.
After that, it began dropping off. The shelves were getting very tight, Vocelli said, which made it hard for people to see the books they were looking for and to pull books out.
This year, 46 percent of residents have library cards – ironically, the same percentage as 1988. Library cards expire every three years so staff can keep patron addresses up to date. Circulation for the 2011-12 fiscal year was at 211,000.
Last month, about 28,000 items were checked out at the library. In August of 2008 – the year the library saw a spike in activity – circulation was also 28,000.
Now that the non-fiction collection is more spread out, the library’s circulation of those items has increased, she said. The added space also allows the library to bring in new material.
Vocelli said circulation and the amount of people coming to the library are increasing again now that construction for the latest expansion is over.