New librarian at the helm



A somewhat circuitous path brought Michelle Malone to the Belleville Public Library in July 2016 but, once settled in, she set a steady course.

“She’s proved herself in a very short time,” was how newly retired library director Joan Taub assessed Malone’s capabilities last month.

And, as of Jan. 3, Malone – who was head of the library’s children’s department – has now risen to the top rank at the library.

Of 15 applicants for the position, seven were interviewed by a library board committee, Taub said, and Malone “presented herself very well.”

During her initial tenure at the library, Malone “coordinated our summer youth reading program, created some new education programs, updated our children’s collections,” Taub said. “And she showed she had good ideas for the library’s future.”

In an interview last week, Malone said that as early as she can remember, she consistently had her nose in a book, concentrating on picking up new information.

“Since I was little,” she quipped, “I’ve always been an encyclopedia of useless information.”

Malone recalled how her mom, an immigrant from South America, used to regularly take her brother to the library in her hometown of Hazlet.

“She loved reading,” Malone said. And she wanted to contribute to her community so, to that end, “she volunteered her time in the senior center.”

Part of the attraction of the library for Malone is interacting with her clients. “I like hearing people’s stories,” she said.

After getting a bachelor’s degree in literature from William Paterson University, Malone was admitted to Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus for library studies at the Palmer School.

“I was focusing on rare books, special collections and records management,” she said.

At the same time, Malone worked part-time at the Metropolitan Museum of New York’s costume institute department, archiving old issues of Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines.

Her first actual field work at a library came while continuing classes at night as she spent daytime hours working for the Red Bank Public Library through Pro Libra Associates, a temp agency geared to students and young professional.

She also put in time at Princeton Theological Library’s archives collections.

After completing her MLIS (master’s in library and information science) in 2009, Malone began testing the job market and landed a new opportunity – and huge challenge – when she was hired by St. Paul’s University’s Nursing & Applied Health School in Staten Island as its first-ever librarian.

“I had to build a library by myself,” she said.

Three years later, Malone said she was undergoing some “transitioning” in her life and decided to go in a “corporate” direction, accepting an offer from IMS Health in Parsippany to work as a data analyst.

IMS Health provides information, services and technology for the healthcare industry and is the largest vendor of U.S. physician-prescribing data.

In that role, she said, “I dealt with logistics issues involving shipping,” for example, finding and correcting inconsistencies in data reports from pharmaceutical companies.

That three-year venture was “a great learning experience,” Malone said, but at the same time she found herself yearning to return to her first love – libraries.

Spotting a posting for a part-time children’s librarian in Belleville, she applied and came aboard in July. Shortly afterward, that turned into a full-time job.

“The library was at the tail end of the construction work (restoration of the original Carnegie building) and a lot of stuff had backed up,” Malone recalled. “No one had had time to manage the collections in the children’s department.”

So, with the library board’s OK, “I hired Shaun Terria Owens as my assistant in September and together, we updated the collections.”

With Taub’s announcement of her pending departure and the board’s advertisement for a replacement, Malone figured she’d “throw my hat in the ring” for the director’s position.

And now she’s in action to meet her newest challenge.

“I’m really excited. There’s so much potential here. I know the public wants to have its library back and having our construction done means we can move forward as the true hub of the Belleville community,” she said.

Malone said there’s a misapprehension that libraries are old hat, “that people aren’t reading anymore. But that’s not true – people are still reading but just in a different way, with anything digital.” And the library does offer digital material.

But, still, she said, there are plenty of other folks “who still desire to have something tangible – print material – to read. And we’re bringing the two together.”

Aside from keeping an eye on the collections, Malone said she hopes to be “implementing more programs” for all ages, beginning with a January yoga series for new moms to be offered Tuesdays.

“We’re also looking into classes for our Teen Room, continuing Story Times for the younger ones; ‘Our Kids Academy’ where children will learn to replicate classic paintings; and ‘Maker’ Activities where kids will learn to apply STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.

“We also have a bilingual Spanish Story Time for children through age 5 that is led by a volunteer.”

For this coming year, Malone will also be doing research to learn what, if any, outside grants may be available to subsidize additional programs.

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