Q&A with Bridget Quinn-Carey, Hartford Public Library’s New CEO
Bridget Quinn-Carey began her job as the leader of the Hartford Public Library on April 11. Quinn-Carey comes from the Queen’s Library, where she served as chief operating officer, and then took over as CEO in 2014 on an interim basis, overseeing a $140 million budget and 65-plus locations. She previously spent three years at director of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System in New York, ran the Essex Library Association for nine years, and served as an interlibrary loan coordinator with the Connecticut State Library early in her career.
Q: What’s your vision for the Hartford Public Library?
A: I have been working in libraries almost 25 years and it's been exciting to see public libraries continuously evolving. That’s what makes it so interesting. At its heart a public library provides a free and open forum that promotes civic engagement and learning opportunities. That’s what Andrew Carnegie had in mind. He launched the free public library movement in the United States. He envisioned a place where people could find an education that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. (Carnegie, who went from poor Scottish immigrant to the richest man in the world, gave away $60 million to fund a system of 1,689 public libraries across America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.)
Q: In Queens you worked with a demographer; how does that help?
A: Having a demographer on staff is another way to serve your community. You have to know who is there. Our librarians can also tell you that. In cities that have large immigrant populations the customer bases can change quickly. You have to tailor your services to meet the needs. That might mean books and other materials in languages other than English. That’s step 1. We also need to be involved in the community, foster community conversations, and understand what challenges or opportunities the library may be positioned to assist with. We must provide a place to talk about issues and bring interesting ideas to the table.
Q: Not everyone who comes into a library has a computer, yet so much information is available on the net. What are your thoughts?
A: There is a digital divide. The Library provides free access to computers and for many that is their only chance to get on line. We are also looking into expanding Wi-Fi and getting devices into the hands of our customers so they can continue to be on line and access the Library's learning resources and digital content from home. It’s something we are exploring and we have to work out the logistics. It’s in early stages.
Q: You are new to the job. What are your impressions of Hartford?
A: People I have met are so proud to live and work here. It’s put a smile on my face. There’s a really good vibe here. I have never lived here, but I am familiar with Hartford. It’s a library system that’s been on my radar for a long time and it’s a thrill to be running this system. There are so many talented people who work here, and the library is beloved. This library is incredibly dynamic.
Q: You were at the table to sign a new agreement with the University of Connecticut, the City of Hartford and the library. What can we expect from the relationship?
A: That was a great day. We are looking forward to our partnership with UConn and its new downtown campus. We’ll be housing their library collection and providing state-of-the-art learning spaces for UConn students. Construction will start soon at the downtown building to accommodate that. It’s a partnership everybody is very excited about. It was great to celebrate this historic partnership with Mayor Luke Bronin and UConn President Susan Herbst. We are looking forward to many mutual benefits from the arrangement.
Q: You came from a big-city system with over 60 locations. You have 10 here in Hartford. What are the challenges?
A: There is plenty to keep me busy. There are not shortages of challenges here, but I'm optimistic about the future and know we can do amazing things for the community. On a personal level I was ready for a new challenge, and wanted to be back in Connecticut. My older daughter is in college in Maine and my younger daughter is finishing 8th grade at her local public school in Essex CT. My husband, Jim, is an attorney. My family was already in Connecticut when I took the job and I' currently looking for a home in Hartford. I'm very thankful for the incredibly warm welcome I've received and look forward to being part of this community.