Candy Emlen in her office. Emlen will retire as director of the Southwest Harbor Public Library in March. ISLANDER PHOTO BY HENRIETTE CHACAR

Librarian Emlen to retire



SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Candy Emlen remembers walking through the Southwest Harbor Public Library sometime in 2002 and hearing the clicking sounds of fingers typing on keyboards.

“This is a sound I have never heard in this library before,” she thought.

Public access computers were relatively new then.

That was also the year she become director of the library. In March, after almost 30 years of serving the library’s community, Emlen will retire.

Emlen started working at the library in 1989, first as a volunteer and then as the children’s librarian. She grew up around libraries as a child, and her mother had even started one. But it was only after she started reading to her own children that she became interested in the value of libraries.

She took children’s literature classes at the College of the Atlantic and initiated a story time at the Southwest Harbor library, the closest to her home in Pretty Marsh.

Some of her fondest memories are from the time she was a children’s librarian. In the early 1990s, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators asked her to judge the Golden Kite Awards, a children’s literary award that was started in 1973. She remembers receiving close to 700 books that year and reading every single one of them.

“It was a really rewarding experience,” she said.

Another moment that stands out to Emlen was having her friend Jeff Moss, an award-winning television writer best known for his work on “Sesame Street,” lead a program at the library. So many people attended that event that it had to be moved across the street to Harbor House.

“It was just so cool having him there, talking about his work on ‘Sesame Street,’ and the creatures he created, and why he created them,” she said.

Emlen said she became director “kind of through the back door.” She was acting as interim director during the search for a new director at the time and was very involved in the process.

“I definitely had concerns about who they were going to hire, because I didn’t want anything changing what this place is, the community feel it has,” she said.

That’s when she was offered the job.

During her time as director, Emlen witnessed library spaces transition into the digital era. Under her watch, Southwest’s library switched from a DOS circulation program that was used internally to Minerva, a statewide system that allows for interlibrary loans.

That change, she said, was positive, “because all of a sudden, our collection could be visible from anywhere.” But it was also a “big leap” for the library, especially financially.

In addition to sitting on all the library-related committees, Emlen does the marketing, book purchasing and cataloging. Her favorite part of the job, though, is working with people.

“I love our patrons, I love our staff, our trustees, our volunteers,” she said. “That’s the part that I’m most nervous about leaving, because I won’t have that daily interaction,” she added, choking up a little.

Emlen encourages an open door policy and has even designed her office to make it more cozy and inviting. She believes the staff is what makes Southwest Harbor’s library so unique and gives them the freedom to come up with and implement their own projects.

“The staff is very dedicated and really wants to do what’s best for the library and what’s best for the patrons, and I think that it shows.”

Emlen has learned a lot throughout her nearly three decades at the library, like how to persevere with a “you can do it” attitude when things are hard, and how to be comfortable asking for help.

Her advice for the next director is to take things slow.

Emlen herself plans on taking it slow once she retires. She is looking forward to traveling with her husband and spending time with her grandsons.

She is not exactly done with the library, though. She hopes to come back as a volunteer at whatever level a new director deems appropriate.

“There’s nothing better than connecting a book with a person,” she said. “It’s very satisfying.”

Henriette Chacar

Henriette Chacar

Former Islander reporter Henriette Chacar covered the towns of Southwest Harbor and Tremont.
Henriette Chacar

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