10 Questions With … Parker Library director Nanci Milone Hill


DRACUT — She’s been at the helm of the Parker Library in Dracut for a little more than two years but for Nanci Milone Hill, each day is as new and fresh as the day she took over as library director.

“Even the (one hour) commute from my home in Gloucester doesn’t seem long at all,” says Hill, who previously directed the Boxford Public Library for two years before coming to Dracut in January 2013. “Well, there might have been a couple of days this past winter when the drive was no fun at all.”

Hill came to Dracut with 20 years of library experience under her belt. That includes working as the head of young adult services and adult services, head reference librarian, assistant library director and library director in Peabody, Georgetown, Wakefield, Lexington and Boxford. Hill is the town’s third library director since the departure of Susan Schwarz, who retired in 2007 after holding the position for 17 years.

A prolific writer, Hill has authored the 185-page “Reading Women: A Book Group Guide for Women’s Fiction” in 2011 and the follow-up, “Perfectly Paranormal: A Guide to Adult and Teen Reading Interests,” which is due out in September. Both titles are published by Libraries Unlimited and are available on Amazon.com.

Hill also co-edits the “Perspectives” column for Public Libraries Magazine. She writes a bi-monthly column for the Library Journal and contributes regularly to “NoveList,” a readers’ advisory database that services public libraries. Not enough? Hill serves as president of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium Executive Board and in July, she will be the vice president/president-elect of the Massachusetts Library Association.

Q: What has been your impression of Dracut?

A: “Oh, I just love Dracut. I really do. It’s beautiful and the people are wonderful. Everyone has been very kind. I love how involved people seem to be in this community.”

Q: How were you drawn to a career in public libraries?

A: “Well, for my undergraduate degree (from Bradford College) I double-majored in philosophy with the intention of becoming a philosophy professor at the university level, but I took a year off before going to grad school and took a position at an elementary school library. In the meantime I got married and had a child and grad school got a little further away. So, after working in the library for about five years I decided I wanted to be in libraries, but in public libraries. So I decided to get my master’s degree in library science instead (from Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston).”

Q: Is the public library still relevant?

A: “Absolutely. More than ever, particularly over the past nine or 10 years when we were going through a recession, which we’ve come out of for the most part, but people who began using the library because of economic hardships have continued to use the library. Ironically, library funding often gets cut during a recession and library use goes up. We see more and more people coming in to use our computers. We still see people sitting in our parking lot in their cars at night to use our WiFi.

“Our DVD circulation goes up every month. It’s at about 3,500 DVDs a month. With the price of taking your family to a movie going up all the time, it’s easier to take a DVD out of the library and make a bowl of popcorn and have a nice family night at home. We see people coming in to do job searches or to get help completing resumes. And I’m really only scratching the surface.”

Q: What other career would you like to have had if you couldn’t be involved in libraries?

A: “I think I already mentioned that I wanted to be a philosophy professor at the university level.”

Q: What is your idea of the perfect day off?

A: “Coming from Gloucester I’d have to say a day at the beach with my feet in the water and a book in my hand.”

Q: How closely do you monitor Internet use?

A: “We don’t really. If we happen to see someone using the Internet for something that is blatantly inappropriate for a library, or illegal, they will immediately asked to stop. We do not use any type of filtering software here. I wasn’t here when that decision was made, but it’s a decision that I agree with. At places I worked previously, I had the opportunity to test and try out filtering software and it doesn’t work. It really doesn’t. For example, if you tried looking up chicken breast recipes, you’d get blocked because of the word ‘breast.’ Or if you tried to look up Essex County, where I live, it would block you because the word ‘sex’ is in Essex.”

Q: What offerings are here at the Parker Library that weren’t available in public libraries 25 or 30 years ago?

A: “Oh, there’s so much. A lot of people still don’t realize we offer e-books and downloadable audiobooks and we’re trying to do quite a bit of advertising around that to make people aware. In addition, we subscribe to something called ‘Overdrive Advantage,’ which allows us to purchase copies of really popular titles that are only available to Dracut patrons so they don’t have to wait as long. The Parker Library is part of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium, which has 32 libraries. For certain titles there are sometimes really long waiting lists. ‘Overdrive Advantage’ allows Dracut library members to bypass that.

“I need to mention something we have called ‘Freegal,’ which is free downloadable music that allows anyone with a Dracut library card to download five songs a week and they get to keep the songs … Then of course there are free museum passes and there’s so much more. I could go on and on.”

Q: Read any good books lately?

A: “I just finished reading ‘The Story Hour’ which sounds like a children’s book but it’s an adult title written by an Indian author named Thrity Umrigar. I read it because next month is the Massachusetts Library Association’s annual conference and everyone attending is expected to read the same book and there will be book-club-type discussions … and that’s the title we’ve been given. I really enjoyed the book. Briefly, it’s about an Indian woman who sort of tricks this man into marrying her and he brings her to America. She attempts suicide and the book’s main focus becomes about her relationship with her therapist. No, it’s not a children’s book. (laughs).”

Q: What historical character would you like to have met?

A: “There are so many. Just one? I guess I would choose Amelia Earhart. She was just so cutting edge and brave and not afraid to challenge herself, as well as those around her. Just a really strong woman at a time when that just wasn’t the norm. I would love to sit there and talk about her life. The hours would fly by like minutes.”

Q: Are there any new and exciting plans are on the horizon at the Parker Library?

A: “We are all very excited that this fall, in September, October and November, we’re holding a ‘Dracut Reads’ program, which will be a town-wide book discussion. We’ve chosen the William Landay book ‘Defending Jacob’ and right now we’re running a ‘Dracut Reads’ logo contest. We’re inviting anyone high school age and older to submit a logo design and the winner will get a $100 gift card to Michael’s arts and craft store, which has been provided by the Friends of the Library. All the information and the details are on the Parker Library website. We have a number of programs involved around that event and we’re hoping we can generate a lot of excitement and that a lot of people want to get involved.”