Turning the page: Huntington Branch Library director retiring

Marcia Austin, director of the Huntington Branch Library in Shelton, Conn. Dec. 19, 2022.
Marcia Austin, director of the Huntington Branch Library in Shelton, Conn. Dec. 19, 2022.Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — While others played house as children, Marcia Austin played librarian – a role she would ultimately play most of her working life. 

Austin has worked in the Shelton Library System for more than 20 years, the majority of which with the Huntington Branch, where she started as a children’s librarian before moving to branch manager in 2013. 

At month’s end, Austin, the welcoming face of the branch for the countless patrons who walked through the doors, will be retiring. 

“This was the best job of my life. I love it here,” said Austin, a longtime Shelton resident who has worked for the city for 26 years total, starting with a role in the assessor’s office before moving Plumb Memorial Library, then the Huntington Branch. 

“When this job opened up, I knew this was just the best environment for me," she said of her position at the library. "I have been blessed with phenomenal staff, phenomenal patrons. It has been a wonderful time for me.” 

In her two decades, Austin has navigated advancements in technology and the need for expanded programming and planning for various events to help promote use of the branch she calls her “second home.” 

Jessica Prutting, the branch’s children’s librarian for the past four years, called Austin a mentor and a “true staple” with the library. 

"She is a wonderful person to learn under,” Prutting said. “She was always there for me when I had any questions or needed guidance. She will truly be missed by everyone here, especially the people who come in that door every day.” 

Austin began in Huntington at the branch in 1992 as a library assistant, and with bachelor’s degrees in teaching and music and a master’s degree in library science, became the children’s librarian in December of 1999. 

“Plumb Memorial Library is the main library, but I always felt that the branch was more of a neighborhood library,” Austin said. “That is what I love about this place.” 

When the branch manager position opened in 2014, Austin was tapped for the job. She also filled in as interim director at Plumb Memorial in 2017 when the previous director retired. 

"Marcia has been a wonderful partner to take this library journey with for the past six years,” said Plumb Memorial Library Director Joan Stokes. “I rely on, and deeply appreciate, her knowledge, experience, hard work and sense of humor."

Austin’s immediate plans after retiring are to relax and travel, and then to move to Maine where she can begin to explore other libraries. She says she will miss the patrons and the staff at the branch and thanks them for all their dedication and good wishes throughout the years. 

“While technology has changed the way libraries serve the public — we have gone from ‘please rewind the VHS tape’ to ‘Here are the instructions to stream our movies’ — serving the public is still and will always be our objective,” Stokes said. 

Austin said her true trial came during COVID, when building closures, staff layoffs and the pandemic infecting much of the Plumb Memorial Library forced her and Prutting to become a two-person force, handling all administrative duties and curbside deliveries. 

“COVID took a lot out of us," Austin said. 

But Austin believes that, in her experience, while COVID was certainly the most trying time for libraries, she was “impressed by how our services continued while we found ways to work ‘outside the box’ and adapt to all the changes we have all endured.” 

Stokes said Austin was "instrumental during the height of the COVID pandemic in helping to keep the library in business when we were offering curbside delivery and remote service."  

Austin said she takes great pride in her efforts, alongside Stokes, in helping revamp the library system’s website, what she called a huge accomplishment in bringing services to patrons. 

“She has been committed to offering the best service to our patrons each and every day, and I will miss her both personally and professionally,” Stokes said. “I wish her every good thing as she turns the page and starts a wonderful new chapter of her life.”  

Libraries need new blood to grow, according to Austin, and she is not one to hang on longer than needed. But she relishes the chance to move from library employee to patron in the coming weeks. 

“I am going to be thrilled if I see things change,” Austin said about when she begins entering the branch doors as a patron. “I’ll be thrilled if collections are moved, if different things are being offered. I think that is going to mean that my staff has confidence and feels comfortable in making decisions."

Change is necessary to stay healthy, she said.

“For this place to grow, change needs to happen,” she said. “If I see things moved around, that is a good sign.”