WALLINGFORD — Jane Fisher is a Wallingford native who became the director of the Wallingford Public Library on Jan. 2, 2013. However, she didn’t originally think she would move back to her hometown after leaving when she was a teenager.
“I had a different career as a healthcare administrator and then I became a librarian, worked at the New York Public Library for 11 years and didn’t really think I would necessarily come back to Wallingford, but I knew what a special community this is and what a great library it is,” Fisher said. “When the position came open, I decided to apply. It was a thrill for me to come back to Wallingford.”
Since her first day just about 10 years ago, Fisher said the library has changed in many ways, which she said is a good thing since “libraries need to keep changing and evolving so that they can stay relevant.”
“We have transitioned from a library that was more transactional, come in and borrow and go home, come in, go to a program, go home,” Fisher said. “We’ve tried to become more transformational so that we offer products and services and materials that can really help people change their lives if they want to.”
Fisher said that the library has achieved this through programs and adapted the library’s spaces such as the Collaboratory, a maker space and digital media lab for adults and teens, and the Wonder Room, an area of the children’s room that is glassed in for children to use for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics related activities.
Along with that, Fisher said the library has become a more welcoming and inclusive place, while also impacting the community in this way. She said staff development, being more meticulous in what is on display in the library, ensuring that the book collection includes authors, subjects and voices that may have been underrepresented in the past and offering programs, such as conversations on race theories, have been how the library has achieved this accomplishment.
“Not just to make the library more welcoming and inclusive, but by extension, the community,” Fisher said. “... A lot of libraries are taking on that role of helping the community be more welcoming and that, I think, is a change that we’ve seen in the last 10 years.”
In 2021, the library became fine free, which is something Fisher is proud to have implemented.
“I think that that is a barrier to use of the library by the people who need us the most,” Fisher said.
Barbara Cangiano, head of borrower services, said that Fisher is “always open to ideas that will benefit our community.” Cangiano said that becoming a fine free library was important.
“I think a significant step to make sure the library was inclusive and there weren’t barriers for people to get a card or come back to the library,” Cangiano said.
Fisher, 58, also said that the library staff have made some significant improvements to the library’s building over the 10 years through replacing lighting in the building to LED lights, carpeting and an elevator, while also repainting the walls after taking down peeling wallpaper.
“We’ve really spruced up the space and I think that is a way to tell the community, ‘This is your space and we want it to feel clean and bright and up to date for you,’” Fisher said.
Janet Flewelling, head of emerging and creative technologies, said that Fisher embraces new ideas and gives the library staff the freedom to direct the “vision of the library.”
“A lot of other leaders are not that willing to listen to those underneath them so it’s really refreshing,” Flewelling said.
The Wallingford Public Library is a not-for-profit association library, so the majority of its money comes from the town, but Fisher said she and her team manage every aspect of the library independently from the town and wants for the majority of the library’s money to go toward public services.
Funding “goes to the books and the materials to borrow and the programs and to keep the building nice,” Fisher said. “We manage our building as well, so that means that we are responsible for heating and air conditioning systems and things like that.”
However, since the library gets money primarily from the town and through its annual membership drive, Fisher said that the library will need to do more fundraising to continue to do bigger projects, such as redoing the library’s front yard to be able to offer outdoor programs in the front of the building.
“Space where people can sit and read and reflect as well as come together and gather for programs,” Fisher said. “So that’s something we have a really preliminary plan for and we’d love to bring that to our community but we’ll probably need additional funds to do that and so we’ll probably be looking at a fundraising effort that would engage the whole community.”
Along with enjoying the various things she gets to do as the library director, Fisher said one of her favorite aspects of her role is working with her employees.
“Every day I feel joy coming to this job and largely it’s because I get to work with such a talented team who care so deeply and because hundreds of people come through the door of this library every day and really love it here,” Fisher said.