RED HOOK, N.Y. -- At a time when most people viewed libraries as diminishing in community appeal and influence, Erica Freudenberger thought differently as she took over as the director of the Red Hook Library in 2010.
Through innovation, collaboration, creativity and dogged determination, Freudenberger has transformed the library, and by extension, the community. Last year, Red Hook Library was named a finalist for the Library Journal’s Best Small Library in America Award. The library received a $10,000 grant with the award.
Since Freudenberger came to Red Hook, annual visits have jumped 250 percent. Program attendance (102 percent), circulation (23 percent) and the budget (103 percent) have also risen dramatically.
Interestingly, Freudenberger joined the library in the midst of a recession and a growing number of readers turned to technological devices to read. The changing economic and lifestyle dynamics challenged most libraries. Freudenberger saw it as an opportunity.
“We were already going through this profound historical shift,’’ Freudenberger said. “We were becoming a knowledge economy, which is a sharing economy. It’s all about access, not ownership. That’s what we’re all about.”
Freudenberger saw the library’s resources as a way to engage the community. And despite fears to the contrary, readers still flock to books. She and her staff, which consists of two other full-time workers, seven part-timers, five pages and volunteers, have worked with the library board to re-energize the facility.
“I think differently than most people most of the time,’’ Freudenberger said. “I saw there were lots of opportunities. You can still do amazing things if you tap into, curate and harness the power and talent in the community.”
Among Freudenberger’s first priorities was to establish more children’s programs. She started with a story time program that met once a week. Now, the library has a dedicated space for children’s programs, and offers a wide assortment for children of all ages.
“Our priority, as a library, is dedicated to literacy,’’ Freudenberger said. “It’s demonstrated that children with literacy skills are more successful in life. Kids develop strong literacy skills before they even start school. The idea was to create a space that was open and welcoming, that they’d want to come to and never want to leave.”
Freudenberger’s other major initiative focused on collaboration. She describes herself as a “promiscuous collaborator,” and sought out businesses, people and community organizations with whom to partner.
“When we started, we had ambitious plans and a very limited budget,’’ she said. “We looked outside the library to see who we could collaborate with. Red Hook Central School District. Bard College. The Rotary Club. Local businesses. Red Hook is a very generous community. Anybody that we asked to work with said yes. I approached everyone I could think of.”
She turned to Bard College, for instance, to help high school students form a robotics club. The village had traditionally hosted an Easter Egg hunt, but didn’t have enough people to volunteer. Freudenberger talked with the Red Hook Police Department and Sgt. Patrick Hildebrand to keep it going. It did.
“We’re not looking for other organizations to foot the bill,’’ she said. “It’s more about looking at points of intersectionality. We tell them we’d love to work with you, and find opportunities to work together.”
The Red Hook Library was built in 1865 in the octagonal-shaped Hendricks House. It has 4,700 square feet, and has just completed a renovation project to create a multi-purpose room for programs, meetings and conferences.
Freudenberger brought passion to her position, but very little in the way of experience. She had worked at an independent book store early in her professional career, and then settled into an editor’s role at a daily newspaper. “I was working 16 hour days,’’ she said. “It just wasn’t feasible anymore.”
She worked at Tivoli Public Library and the Staatsburg Library Society for a little more than two years before landing the job at Red Hook. “I just completely lucked into it,’’ Freudenberger said. “I always loved libraries but had no idea I would ever work in one. It was just kismet.”
With the community’s support, she has developed a calendar filled with activities for people of all ages. From early-morning storytimes for toddlers to Saturday afternoon science sessions, Red Hook Library’s programs offer something for everybody.
“I’m proud in general of how willing the whole team has been able to open up and turn outward,’’ Freudenberger said. “Our entire community is invested in this. They may not work at the library, but they work with us and help us achieve what we’ve done. Our community is successful because it works together. That’s what we want to show to other people.”
For more information about Red Hook Library, click here to visit its website.