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“I’m just really excited to show Madison what the library will be when we take it to the next level,” says E.C. Scranton Library Library Director Sunnie Scarpa, shown here in front of a banner at the construction site for the library. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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At the age of 8, Sunnie Scarpa started to pursue her career. She volunteered at her local library and liked it.
“I became a library volunteer at the age of 8, and I think I was in middle school when I started to realize it made a lot of sense as a career,” she recalls.
Today, at 37, she works as the Library Director at Madison’s E.C. Scranton Memorial Library.
“The funny thing is, I always wanted to be a librarian, but I didn’t consider myself ambitious. I never really thought ahead. I wasn’t planning on, ‘OK, here are the steps I am going to take so I can be a library director before 40,’” she says.
“I just wanted to be a really good librarian. That was it for my career aspirations. I want to be a good librarian—good at what I do—who serves people successfully, meeting people’s needs,” she explains.
Even before finishing her bachelor’s degree in youth ministries at Gordon College in Massachusetts, Sunnie was already looking into a master’s degree program in the field of library science. She decided to go with the master’s degree program in library and information science offered at Southern Connecticut State University, graduating in 2007.
There was no doubt she was on the professional fast track. While pursuing her master’s degree, she worked two part-time jobs, one of which was in the reference section of the New Haven Free Public Library. Two months before graduating, she snagged the full-time teen librarian job. Then in 2012, she became the manager of the Young Minds Department (Youth and Teen Services).
In 2013, she left the New Haven Free Public Library to become the head of Children’s Services at the Wallingford Public Library.
Last May, after giving birth to her first child with her husband Steve, she started as the library director at the Scranton Library.
One Giant Leap for Children
During the six years she spent as head of Children’s Services at the Wallingford Public Library, Sunnie realized she enjoyed the management side of her work.
Her job as a manager at the Wallingford Library involved 50 percent administration and 50 percent traditional librarian work.
“I love it,” she says. “I’m a big nerd for management and leadership, constantly reading books on leadership. One of the things I see as my central role—and this will be very true in Madison—is I’m not the one doing the boots-on-the-ground work. What I’m doing is I’m hiring the right people and I’m setting a work environment in which everyone can do their best work and thrive.”
In 2017, the Children’s Department of the Wallingford Library structured its summer reading around the theme, Race to Space. The highlight of the theme was a once-in-a-lifetime science treat for children: a 20-minute, live Earth-to-space call with two astronauts living at the International Space Station.
“We set up with NASA a downlink from the International Space Station and 200 kids in Wallingford got to talk via Skype, [or] like a special NASA version of Skype, with two astronauts on the Space Station,” she explains.
Expedition 52 flight engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer answered questions from students aged 5 and up selected from the group of 200 who gathered at the library for the occasion.
“We had it up on the big screen and the kids had submitted questions ahead of time. We picked 10 of the best questions. They got to come up to the laptops and ask the astronaut the questions and everyone got to watch the answer on the big screen,” she says. “It was amazing.”
The Space Station link is a project that shows Sunnie’s mindset. To her, library work goes far beyond lending books to patrons.
All About Connections
Sunnie points out that at the Scranton Library, which currently serves patrons in its temporary location at 1250 Durham Road, onsite and offsite programs connect people to their information needs.
She cites a current offering of databases like Consumer Reports, where patrons get free information about the products they want to buy. That, she says, is a way of making the connection between people and information.
The same is true for children’s programs with mothers and caregivers, she says.
“It’s giving programs like story times for parents of young children who are overwhelmed to have a moment when they come and they see models [of activities]. It’s not a lecture, but it’s someone modeling to them easy ways of singing to a child, rhyming with a child, connecting with a child that will set them up for improved literacy skills later…That’s connecting them to information they need.”
Then there are possible future programs like hosting a group of people to meet at the library so they can go through the free online Open Yale Courses and discuss the lectures together.
“It’s all about connections, and it starts with the kernel of connecting people to the information they need. People think of it as, ‘Oh, you just put a book in people’s hands.’ But the idea is connecting people to information, which can mean anything,” she explains.
“We’re constructing the ideas for programs and services that will take place in the library. With the new space come the new opportunities,” she adds.
Even with the big plans for the Scranton Library, Sunnie is aware of the need to keep a close eye on the cost of reopening and maintaining a new and bigger library. Armed with a certificate in financial success for nonprofits from Cornell University she completed online earlier this year, she feels ready to take on the responsibility at Scranton.
“We’re up to the challenge. That’s what I came here for. I didn’t think I would be excited about the budget process, but I am,” she says.
“We’re working now on constructing the budget for that fiscal year . We are going line by line, doing a lot of research, and very carefully constructing it so that we minimize the financial cost while maximizing our output so that we can do the most good in the community for the least number of dollars,” she says.
She admits that she has a vision of where she hopes the library would be 5 to 10 years into the future.
“Libraries that evolve continue to serve to meet the needs of their specific communities. They continue to be relevant, well-used, and beloved community institutions,” she says. “I’m just really excited to show Madison what the library will be when we take it to the next level. We’re going to have a lot of grand opening festivities next July and I hope every single person in Madison will come, walk through the library, and see for themselves what the next phase of library service is and what we can do with that.”
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