Change of guard in store at West Jefferson library

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Cathy Allen (left), director of Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library in West Jefferson, will turn the reins over to Tara McClaskie on Jan. 31.

(Posted Dec. 30, 2017)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Cathy Allen is coming to terms with the fact that, in a month, her answer to the question, “What do you do?” will be “I’m a retired librarian.”

On Jan. 31, Allen will hand over directorship of Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library to assistant director Tara McClaskie. By that date, Allen will have served as director of the West Jefferson library for “10 years and a couple little days.”

To say Allen is proud of what her library team has accomplished would be an understatement. High on the list is the library’s financial stability.

“In 10 years, we’ve come from a place of fiscal uncertainty to a place where we’re fiscally healthy,” Allen said. “We’ve raised the profile of the library in the community and have proved ourselves to be a valuable asset.”

Voters rewarded those efforts by passing the library’s first-ever tax levies, an act of approval and trust Allen said is humbling.

Allen’s tenure also has seen a full remodel of the library’s physical space, inside and out. It’s “refreshed, reorganized and revitalized,” she said.

Populating that space is a staff dedicated to serving the community.

“They love their jobs. Every day is a joy here with the staff. We hear often from patrons that it’s the friendliest library they’ve ever visited,” Allen said. “I’m happy to say I built that team, then stayed out of the way so they could do their jobs.”

Allen’s plans for retirement involve moving to Michigan where she and her husband are remodeling a lake house they will cohabit with her parents. Allen said she’ll likely volunteer at the library where she got her start 25 years ago.

“It’s bittersweet to leave a job you’ve loved for 10 years, but it helps to know it’s going to someone who loves it just as much as you do,” she said.

Incoming Director

Born and raised in Madison County, Tara McClaskie has taken what she calls a “curvy” path to this point in her career.

She once worked as a costumed interpreter at Old Sturbridge Village, a living museum in Massachusetts that recreates life in rural New England in the 1790s to 1830s. She also worked as an education assistant at a zoo in Peoria, Ill. Prior to joining the team at Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library, she managed the historical room and worked reference at a library in Nappanee, Ind.

“I’m a big proponent that people should be life-long learners,” she said. About her decision to take on directing duties in West Jefferson, she added, “I see it as an opportunity for me to continue to learn and grow.”

Eight years ago, McClaskie started as an information assistant at Hurt-Battelle, then became adult services coordinator. Drawing on her master’s degree in museum studies, she also has worked to catalogue photographs, small artifacts, and other archival materials the library inherited from the former West Jefferson Historical Society.

As the library’s director, she said she will focus on expanding adult and youth services and revamping technology services.

Ideas for adult services include adding instructional workshops, like how to get into real estate, and more formal technology classes. Partnership with a GED study provider is another possibility.

She wants to build on the library’s innovation station, turning it into a “mobile maker’s space.” The purpose is to expose children to science, technology, engineering, and math concepts through experiments, crafts, and other imagination challenges.

As for revamping technology, McClaskie said she will keep an eye on the trends and adjust accordingly.

“I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but I want to keep it all in mind,” she said.

Allen began working with McClaskie on the directorship transition on Dec. 1.

“It’s lovely to have a couple of months to turn the reins over,” Allen said. “Tara is going to do a fabulous job.”

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