Person of the Week
Kathleen Cartwright: A Place for People as Well as Books
Westbrook native Kathleen Cartwright got her start at the Henry Carter Hull Library before heading off to other adventures, but she’s now back and helping guide the library through the tumult of the COVID pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Cartwright)
It was some well-timed advice from her sister that set Kathleen Cartwright on her eventual career path.
“She was a librarian at Hand [high school] in Madison and I had graduated UMass and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with a cultural anthropology degree, but she mentioned there was an opening at the library in Clinton,” Kathleen recalls.
After a stint across the country, Kathleen is back at the library where she first started more than 15 years ago.
“I used to work here part-time eight years before I moved to Oregon,” says Kathleen.
Now, Kathleen works with reference and information. Kathleen says she is in charge of aspects such as web design and website development as well as helping patrons find answers to reference queries.
When one thinks of libraries they invariably think of rows and rows of books. However, today the Henry Carter Hull Library is a home for more modern resources including movies, business resources, and technology with which some patrons may not be familiar using on their own. Kathleen helps those patrons navigate the various digital resources the library has.
“Not everyone owns a computer or has access to the Internet, so they rely on us,” Kathleen says.
Kathleen says she sees a link between working in a library and her days studying cultural anthropology, a discipline that studies different societies and cultures, and their development.
“It’s a holistic discipline about how everything is connected and there’s a book for everything,” she says.
To Kathleen, that compares to being in a library, where there are so many books about so many topics. She finds it interesting to see the various things that interest people.
Similarly, Kathleen can be described as someone with different interests, as demonstrated from her time living in Portland, Oregon.
“I helped people get established after they were granted refugee status,” Kathleen explains.
After her studies in anthropology, Kathleen says she found the chance to work with people from diverse cultures and different languages to be interesting. It was also a fulfilling job, seeing as the refugees were escaping dire and harrowing circumstances in their former counties and had amazing stories according to Kathleen.
“Some people have been in refugee camps for a decade and it was amazing how appreciative they were to come here,” she says.
After her time in Portland, Kathleen, a Westbrook native, felt it was time to come back home and be closer to family.
“It was an opportunity to be on the staff again and be back with the community and my family,” Kathleen says.
Since coming back, Kathleen has enjoyed her new role and all it has to offer.
“The best part of my job is surprising people with what we offer, whether it is free tech education resources, résumé builders, amazing films through Kanopy, or the language program, Mango,” says Kathleen.
Kathleen says that she truly believes that if you put the right book in someone’s hands, it can change their life.
“Making people feel really good and showing how important the library is and how it’s a place like no other is important to me, too,” Kathleen adds.
On the flip side, Kathleen acknowledges that the last year has been hard for the library because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kathleen pointed out that much of what makes the library special relies on the community and community outreach. In normal times, the library can be hub of activity whether it’s as a meeting space for people, where people go for classes and lectures, or the home of an activity fair. To go a whole year without much of that interaction has been hard for patrons and library staff alike.
Kathleen is wrapping up a graduate school degree in library science. She says she doesn’t know yet what the future holds for her with that degree, but is excited to find out. When she’s not working or doing school work, Kathleen says she can be found running, riding her bike, or of course, reading.
Having now spent two different parts of her life in Clinton’s library, Kathleen has an appreciation for how the building fits into the larger community.
“It’s just a great community that loves their library and all the smiling faces that are inside,” Kathleen says.