Saturday, April 27, 2013

From the Keene Sentinel - Saturday April 27, 2013

No shushing: Markus makes library a vibrant place

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Posted: Saturday, April 27, 2013 8:00 am
About a month ago, more than 85 people gathered at the Hancock Town Library to hear wild canid expert Chris Schadler explain what coyotes are up to in New Hampshire.
A few days later, Bhagirath Khatiwada, a young Concord social worker, described his life as a Bhutanese refugee.
And just last week, audience members sang along with musicians and teachers Woody Pringle and Marek Bennett — exploring the Civil War through camp songs, fiddle tunes, battle cries and hymns.
These are a few of the highly eclectic, widely popular programs at the Hancock Town Library that are free and open to the public. There are also readings by published poets and authors, exotic gardening and travel talks, and professional theatrical performances.
And the mastermind behind them all is library director Amy Markus.
“It’s a great job,” she said. “I love my work. I love public libraries.”
Markus, who lives in Hancock, has overseen the library for more than a decade. To her, it’s more than a place to borrow books, periodicals and movies. It’s a vital community and cultural center.
“It’s a place where everyone in the community has free access to information and knowledge,” she said. “No matter what your background or socioeconomic status, everyone has equal access. All ages, all backgrounds — everybody is welcome at a library.
“I try to offer a lot of different programming — to bring the wider world into our small community,” she said. “It’s part of my job that I really enjoy. I put a lot of energy into it.”
Markus, 54, never dreamed that she’d become a librarian. She grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., where her parents were successful psychologists. She loved history and politics. After graduating from high school in 1977, she enrolled in Oberlin College in Ohio to study liberal arts. But midway into her bachelor’s degree program, she left to travel and to work.
She moved to the Monadnock Region because her sister was a graduate student at Antioch University New England in Keene. The two rented a house together in Hancock. Her parents subsequently bought the home, and ultimately retired there.
For a year or so, she worked as a bartender at the Hancock Inn. Then, in 1981, she was offered an internship with the National Organization for Women in Washington, D.C., to campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment.
She wasn’t paid, but received free room and board. She lived with Molly Yard — the celebrated American feminist and former assistant to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt — who went on to become NOW’s president.
“It was incredibly exciting,” Markus said. “They needed three more states (to ratify the amendment). It was a real push. People from all around the country were coming in to help.
“My parents knew Molly Yard. That’s how I got to live with her,” she said. “She was second-in-command at NOW at the time. She was such an inspiration. She was an amazing woman.”
By 1983, she had returned home to Hancock, and tended bar at The Folkway in Peterborough. In its heyday, the now-defunct restaurant and coffeehouse was among the Northeast’s most popular folk music venues.
“We had Stan Rogers, Odetta, Greg Brown,” she said. “It was a lot of fun. Peterborough was such a vibrant community.”
She also went back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1985 from the School for International Training in Brattleboro. That same year, she married, and eventually had two children. The marriage ended in divorce a few years ago.
She took a break from the workforce, but dove headfirst into community service.
“I got my degree. I got married, and had kids. I stayed home for a while,” she said. “But, I did a lot of volunteering. I served on the board of Monadnock Music. I worked on United Way campaigns. I volunteered with the PTO. I did a lot of community organizing. That’s what I like to do.”
In 2000, she and other Hancock residents founded the Friends of the Hancock Town Library to provide financial support through fundraising activities. Two years later, she was asked to take over when the library director resigned. She’s been there ever since.
At the time, the library programs attracted few attendees. With her arrival, that all changed.
Rennie Timm is the Hancock children’s librarian. Before she was hired for the position, she was a library volunteer, and now has worked under Markus’ supervision for about six years.
“Amy does a phenomenal job of programming,” she said. “She sees our library as an essential piece of the community. If you have a request for something, she’ll go to the ends of the Earth to find it for you.
“She’s really in tune with the patrons and community. She’s here 100 percent,” she said. “She’s a great person to work for. We have a lot of fun. We’re not quiet at all. People really engage with one another here.”
Along with the programming, Markus focuses on collaborations with other area organizations. For instance, Schadler’s recent coyote talk was co-sponsored by the nearby Harris Center for Conservation Education. The nonprofit Cornucopia Project, which is based in Hancock, leads children’s gardening projects at the library.
A few years ago, Ruth Holmes of Sunnyfield Farm in Peterborough even brought sheep to graze for a week on the library lawn. There were also sheepdog demonstrations.
“We try to reach out to other organizations in town and the area to do projects together,” Markus said. “You can reach many more people when you’re collaborating.”
Among those who share that philosophy is Laurie Bryan, a library trustee. She’s also a past Hancock selectman, and the former director of the Harris Center.
“We’re very lucky to have Amy,” she said. “She’s just wonderful at welcoming everyone to the library. She works very hard to make the library’s Daniels meeting room a place where many people can meet. It’s used not only by the library, but by groups like the 4-H Club, the Girl Scouts and even a tai chi club.”
Markus has little leisure time. To make ends meet, along with her full-time job at the library, she waits tables at a Peterborough restaurant on weekends.
Still, she finds time to do one thing — strictly for fun.
Five years ago, she founded the SynchroSistahs, a synchronized swimming team made up of eight women friends. Each year, from May to August, they train for just one performance, at Norway Pond, as part of Hancock’s Old Home Days celebration. Video can be seen on YouTube.
“We’re kind of kitschy,” she said. “We try to be funny. We’re clearly amateurs, but we have a lot of fun.”
Kim Cunningham, a member of the group, is a close friend of Markus’ and among her greatest fans. The two meet daily to walk their dogs together.
“We’re incredibly lucky in Hancock to have her as librarian,” she said. “It’s become quite a town hub. A lot of people turn out for the programs. She’s started up some really neat things.
“She’s very creative and people-oriented,” she said. “She comes up with great ideas. There’s always a lot of laughter and fun going on at the library and whenever she’s around.”
For now, Markus has her eye on upcoming programs. Kicking off May will be Eric Masterson, author of “Bird Watching in New Hampshire.” On tap for May 9 is the N.H. Humanities Council program, “A Night of Music with Two Old Friends.” It features Emery Hutchins and Jim Prendergast in a night of traditional Celtic music and American country music, along with stories, songs and instrumental melodies.
Later in the month, local author Sy Montgomery will present her new children’s book, “Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo.”
As for what’s next, Markus plans to keep doing what she does best.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” she said. “But, I love my job here. So, if they’ll have me, I plan to stay.

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