Ten Minutes with Jean Chapin
A dedicated Library Director
Photo by Antoine Bootz
Jean Chapin has been at Gunn Memorial for 35 years and still gets excited about going to work. She was instrumental in the library’s expansion and has created numerous programs to encourage more people to visit. Not only have her own children and grandchildren been instilled with a love of books, but children of children she first introduced to the world of books are now ardent readers because of her commitment to literacy and reading. We sat down with her recently.
Does one grow up wanting to be a librarian?
I wanted to be a teacher, but I never thought of being a librarian. However, it turns out to be a perfect fit for my Type A personality: everything has an order to it, everything has to be done a certain way. But there is also a creative side to the job, which I love.
Are you a native of this area?
We moved to Washington when I was 12, so I’m not really a native. You have to be conceived in Washington to be one. When I was 16 my parents bought the former Waramaug Inn, which became our home. The lake was quite different then. My teenage years were filled with waterskiing and parties. Then I went to a parochial school in Quebec and became very proper.
Back to being a librarian—how did that happen?
After my youngest son went off to nursery school I found a part-time job at the children’s library. I became an assistant and then the librarian. The library was on the verge of being open only half days because of poor circulation. My first charge was to develop innovative programming to attract more visitors.
The library has such distinctive features. What is its history?
The upper level comprises the original main rooms of the 1908 building. The oak paneling and dentil moldings are still intact, and the crowning glory is the gilt-accented ceiling mural by H. Siddons Mowbray. The memorial stained glass was restored in 2010.
Has the borrowing of actual books decreased with the advent of audio and e-books?
Not in the way people worry about. Thankfully there are still so many people who want hardcover books. We have every format available so we appeal to everyone. I don’t think that will ever change.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
More than 70 percent of our operating budget comes from fundraising, and I think we do it very successfully, but it’s always about raising the bar and attracting more people to our events. Our Library Luminaries event has grown amazingly.
What inspires you?
The people I come in contact with every day—my fellow employees, the patrons, board members, visitors to the Gunn. And thinking of new ways to promote reading!
When you are not at the Gunn, what do you do?
About six years ago I started playing bridge and I’m addicted. I
have four grandchildren and I spend as much time as I can with them. Four years ago I thought I might just work part time. But here I am 35 years later still loving my work.