HUDSON -- Shelley Tougas was working from home as a children’s author when she first applied for a part-time position with the Hudson Area Public Library.
A friend in the library field lectured her about all the financial issues, history and more.
“And I said, relax, it’s not like I’m going to be running the place,” she said.
Five years later, she is now the library’s new director.
The official designation isn’t anything new for Tougas, though. She has been serving as the interim co-director, along with now Assistant Director Madeline Page, for a year. The two stepped into the interim positions in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a funding crisis for the library.
“We had the support of our board and we have this amazing, professional innovative staff, and they didn’t blink,” Tougas said.
The funding problem has worsened since Tougas first joined the library, but she doesn’t regret getting involved.
“We have this team - a phenomenal staff, board, Friends of the Library and the Hudson Area Library Foundation - and we are all focused on the same goal, which is to secure the future of the library,” she said. “If I didn’t think we’d achieve that goal, I wouldn’t have applied for this job.”
She knows the job will be tough. The joint library has been underfunded for years, and without change the reserve budget will be gone by July 2022.
“I am energized by the challenge,” Tougas said. “I am thrilled by the progress we made so far.”
The previous Director Tina Norris helped stabilize the situation, she said, and served as a mentor for her. Tougas is currently working on her masters in library and information sciences at Norris’s alma mater. It makes for a busy schedule, but she’s able to sculpt her education to her role at the Hudson library.
The library has great community support. For many, the long-building financial crisis was a shock.
“But we’ve received just incredible feedback and support from community groups, from patrons, even from residents who aren't regular library users who value it because they know it’s the foundation of the community,” Tougas said. “Libraries are essentially the last free public gathering space in our society, and that’s something to cherish.”
One of her main priorities in the role is to help the community adjust to the new normal coming out of COVID.
“Whatever this new normal is,” she said.
The other priority is the funding. The library needs sufficient, stable and sustainable funding, Tougas said.
“That’s going to be a slow process. We’re going to get there, but it’s not going to be as fast as everyone would like,” she said.
Tougas wants to work with the community to hear what type of library members want, so they can all be on the same page.
She is most looking forward to that relationship building aspect as library director. Connecting with people is energizing and exciting for her.
“There are issues in the community that are best addressed collaboratively. It's the most efficient and effective way to help our community, so I’m looking to build partnerships wherever we can just to help Hudson thrive,” she said.
She’s excited to bring back the large in-person events that the library had ramped up before the pandemic. From trick or treating, to book character day and more, Tougas said those were some of the most joyful weekends for her.
“It’s helping their kids fall in love with a library and reading and stories, it just doesn’t get any better than that,” she said.
In the meantime, Tougas wants community members to know that the whole library team is working hard to build the library they want and deserve.
“We are not your mother’s library,” she said. “Books are just the beginning.”