Public library’s new leader is passionate about her role

If the board of directors of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County was looking to replace former Executive Director Heidi Daniel with someone exactly like her, it couldn’t have fared any better than Aimee Fifarek, who took over the reins Friday.

The qualities that made Daniel such a success during her five years here – passion for the job, commitment to public service and a clear vision of the library system’s function in an era of constantly changing technology – are evident in Fifarek.

“The director is the face of the library and it’s incumbent upon me to play that role,” she told Vindicator editors and writers recently. “Heidi did that very well.”

To be sure, Daniel set the bar quite high Nonetheless, we’re confident Fifarek, with her qualifications, experience and understanding of just how important the libraries are to the community, is up to the task.

Indeed, she believes her job will be made easier because of the community’s support for the PLYMC.

Fifarek tells the story of participating in a public forum featuring the finalists for the executive director’s position and being pleasantly surprised that 50 residents took the time to attend.

“Any community that cares that much about libraries is definitely a community I will feel welcome in,” she told The Vindicator.

Before coming to Youngstown, Fifarek worked as the Phoenix, Ariz., Public Library’s deputy director for information technology and digital services. The city is larger than Mahoning County but isn’t able to generate the level of public interest shown in Youngstown.

The new leader of the library system is also aware that voters in Mahoning County have been unstinting in their support of operating levies.

“It’s going to take time to change my mindset from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of plenty,” Fifarek said, comparing the balanced budget of the PLYMC to the economic turmoil in Phoenix.

Challenges abound

But while the stage is set for the executive director to build on the success of her predecessor – Daniel left in mid-July to lead the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore – challenges abound.

An interim director, Sue Merriman, replaced Daniel while the board conducted a national search.

Although the traditional role of the library as a font of information and knowledge has not changed, technology is forcing a reassessment of the way services are provided.

Indeed, Fifarek told The Vindicator she commonly hears people ask why libraries are necessary when Google exists.

She has a compelling answer you may well hear if you attend the “Meet Aimee Fifarek” open reception this morning at the Main Library on Wick Avenue. The event is scheduled to begin at 7:30 and last until 9.

If you do stop in, you’ll quickly find out why the PLYMC has been such a rousing success.

Innovation and progressive new services have been the hallmarks of the system’s response to the changing world. Fine-free cards tailored for use by children and teens, a mobile Pop-Up Library service in schools and circulation of mobile Wi-Fi hotspots are a few of the services that have made the libraries vital community resources and multi-dimensional learning centers.

But what qualifies the system as a true pillar of the community is the fact that services aren’t confined to the bricks- and-mortar structures of the main library and its many branches.

There’s a philosophy that has long guided executive directors: If people can’t come to the library, then take the library to the people.

In expounding on the concept of the mobile library, Fifarek showed why she will be such a good fit in the county.

“If there’s a choice between putting food on the table, paying rent and teaching children how to read … I think you know what’s going to come first,” she told The Vindicator.

All children have the god-given ability to learn, but not all of them have the opportunities or the resources to satisfy their quest for knowledge.

The public library is society’s great equalizer.

Aimee Fifarek is ideally suited to build on the successes of Heidi Daniel the two executive directors before her, Carlton Sears and Theresa Trucksis.

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