One on One with…Michelle Brenner
By Dawn De Busk
CASCO – Children are the most appreciative and the most unpredictable audience when it comes to story time at the library.
Almost as colorful as the illustrations on the book’s pages are the verbal responses and playful antics of the children listening to them.
For almost a decade, Michelle Brenner has been the voice reading the words during children’s story time program on Tuesday mornings. Her hands have held open the pages of more than one-thousand books.
Becoming involved in the children’s program at the Casco Public Library ended up being a “foot in the door” for Michelle who became the library director when that position opened up two years ago. Then, her role with the local library expanded greatly. Tuesday mornings remain a fun, familiar ritual for Michelle and the one- to two-dozen children who listen to stories and partake in crafts.
While many people might think that a librarian is somewhat of a bookworm, Michelle knows it’s wise to be social butterfly, too.
B-News: How many years have you been working at the Casco Library?
Michelle: Almost 10 years.
B-News: How long have you been serving as director?
Michelle: Two years.
B-News: When and why did you decide to become a librarian?
Michelle: I really didn’t make a conscious decision to become a librarian, although I have always loved libraries. I started working at the Casco Public Library doing children’s programming because of my preschool teaching experience. I really enjoyed working at CPL so as the opportunity to become Children’s Librarian and later, director came up, I jumped at the chance to take on bigger roles at the library.
B-News: For which other libraries have you worked or volunteered?
Michelle: Although I patronized many libraries through the years, the only other library I volunteered at was the Mary E. Bartlett Memorial Library in Brentwood N.H. when I was in junior high school.
B-News: List the three most fun things on this month’s calendar at this library?
Michelle: This month we are hosting two movie nights — on March 16 we showed an Academy Award-winning musical from 1952 to celebrate the library’s 65th birthday. We will be screening a newly-released animated musical for a Friday Family Movie March 24. We have an art class happening on Sunday, March 26 with our resident artist, Sue Pride teaching how to sketch and color flowers. If you can’t see flowers outside, you can make your own!
B-News: What library service is used often?
Michelle: If you look at circulation numbers, the service that is used the most is checking out books. Hands down checking out book and DVDs is what most people do at the library.
B-News: Which program is the best attended?
Michelle: On a regular basis, our Tuesday morning story time has the most attendees — last week we had 24 children and 11 parents/caregivers!
B-News: As the director, your job is to promote the library. In what ways have you done that? Is promoting the library one of the “easier” tasks you have because it seems really heartfelt?
Michelle: I am always inviting people to come stop in the library for a visit or to come to a program and that kind of promotion is certainly heartfelt. I also promote the library through our website, our social media channels and e-newsletter and that sometimes is not “easy” because of the time it takes and the fact that I would rather be talking to people than stuck working at a computer screen.
B-News: What is the biggest library you’ve ever been to?
Michelle: The Library of Congress in Washington DC
B-News: Some people might not know this about you, but you are involved in the Foreign Exchange Student host program. Would you please summarize that program?
Michelle: AFS-USA is a nonprofit organization and has been a leader in intercultural learning and exchange for more than 70 years. Each year, more than 2,300 exchange students from 90 countries come to the U.S. on AFS programs to study in high schools and live with host families. In the past 10 years LRHS families have opened their hearts and homes to many exchange students, including close to 50 AFSers.
B-News: Why did you become involved in volunteering your home for the foreign exchange student program?
Michelle: We started as a host family because of our interest in foreign languages, hosting a girl from Belgium in 2005-6 (who is coming back to visit us this summer J). I then got involved with the local team of volunteers to help run the program throughout the state and find and support more host families in the LR area so that more people could enrich their lives by making a difference in a teen’s intercultural education. We also continued to host and have welcomed nine students into our family.
B-News: Who have been some of your favorite women in history — throughout your own life?
Michelle: When I was in elementary school, I remember being impressed by Harriet Beecher Stowe after reading a biography about her and being inspired by teacher Annie Sullivan after watching the movie The Miracle Worker. In high school, I remember being in awe of the compassion Mother Teresa showed the poor and dying in Calcutta.
B-News: Who is your favorite woman in history now?
Michelle: It is hard to say a “favorite” — maybe Rosa Parks because she took a stand against injustice even though it was extremely difficult.
B-News: Since March is the month of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, what is your favorite Dr. Seuss book?
Michelle: The Lorax
B-News: Do you ever forget to use your quiet voice in the library?
Michelle: Well, we are not a “hush, hush” library so my quiet voice is usually reserved for the quieter spaces in the “far room.”
B-News: What stereotype about librarians is actually true about you?
Michelle: I sometimes wear my reading glasses on a chain — is that a stereotype?
B-News: Do you think the role of women has changed from what it was 30 years ago? From what is was 10 years ago? What would you wish for women in the future?
Michelle: Those are hard questions to answer in a few sentences but yes, I do feel the role of women has changed and continues to change in various aspects of social structures all over the world. As a librarian, I feel it is important to look at history to see where women were and how far we have come. However, it is always important to be looking ahead and striving for a more equitable society for everyone.