A librarian signs out: Sue Horton shares her favorite memories
Like pages in a book, careers are meant to be flipped from one chapter to the next until the story eventually comes to an end.
Sue Horton has become comfortable with that process over the last couple of months, as her days as Trumbull Library Director continue to countdown to a well-earned retirement.
This story is over, but the bigger journey is just beginning, Horton insists.
“I was offered the package in December but I hesitated at first because I wanted to have one more year,” said Horton, who took over as director on June 13, 2007. “The more I thought about it though, I realized it makes sense for my personal life and that we’re at a good point here at the library having just completed the strategic plan that’s been more than a year in the making.”
Horton will ride west to Tucson, Ariz., in January 2017; however, she plans to spend her summers in New England at her daughter Emily’s home in Roxbury, Conn.
“I’ll come back,” she said. “There’s no way I could leave forever.”
The face of Trumbull Library for the past nine years decided to move back to Connecticut in 1986 with her husband, Mark, after the couple had started their professional careers in New Hampshire.
A Danbury native, she began working at her hometown library as a reference library before climbing up the ranks to become the organization’s young adult librarian.
After 17 years, she left the Danbury Public Library as the head of its audio and visual department to take on the top position in Trumbull.
“I worked my way up the ladder and that’s something I’m very proud of about my career,” she reflected.
However, a career in-between book shelves wasn’t the calling a young Horton envisioned for herself.
A lover of words ever since she was little, Horton started her professional life as a high school English teacher before discovering a limiting physical condition that put her at somewhat of a crossroads.
“I knew I couldn’t teach anymore when I got my hearing aids,” the librarian said. “So I began thinking what else can I do that is similar, and that’s how I wound up here.”
Passion for partnership
Besides her affection for the English language, the one consistency that has carried Horton through both her career as a teacher and a librarian is the passion she has for working with teenagers and young adults.
That’s why the first project she implemented in Trumbull was the creation of a teen area for young readers interested in discovery and exploration — self and worldly.
“It’s always been there,” she said. “And all these years later, it’s still one of my strongest passions.”
When asked to define her greatest achievement in the Trumbull Library system, Horton leans toward the teen section but ultimately selects the One Book, One Town program.
“It’s a toss up really,” she explained. “But with One Book, we were able to partner with so many different businesses and showcase all these wonderful assets to the community — the Nature and Arts Center, the agriscience school, all of Trumbull schools, the historical society; the list goes on.
“It’s really taken off,” she added. “And a lot of good has come from it.”
Partnering with other organizations extends beyond her work life.
In her personal time, Horton volunteers with the Trumbull Rotary Club — something she intends to keep doing until she points her compass west.
“We’ll find another rotary out in Arizona,” she said. “But it won’t be like it is here at home.”
Other future volunteer ventures include working with Habitat for Humanity and going back to spend a few hours a week in Danbury — her hometown and the place where she launched her second career.
Trumbull will never be far from her heart though.
“I found being on different committees here and working on many boards that I was allowed to meet a lot of people that I’m seriously going to miss,” she said.
“Committee work is challenging but at the same time it’s very rewarding,” she added. “You can’t help but get a lot out of working together with other people — networking with them and partnering with them under a similar vision.
“It’s one of my most proud accomplishments.”
These times they-are-a-changin’
In a career that has spanned across four decades, Horton has seen endless amounts of change to libraries.
“They’ve gone from these old-fashioned buildings where people went to go get information — this huge collection of resources and reference material — to having an enormously different use as a gathering space for community members,” she explained. “The purpose used to be to find resources, now it’s all about using the resources we make available, whether it’s the MakerSpace or the business and career center.”
The challenge has been finding the space — not necessarily adapting to the changing needs.
“Libraries have become community centers,” Horton said. “It’s a place where people can be together to do work and see one another.”
Compounding that change has been the rise of electronic books and streaming services, which have helped turn collection after collection into web-based catalogs that belong in a cloud — not on the floor of the library.
Digitalization isn’t an untamable evil, Horton stresses.
“It’s a huge change but that doesn’t mean people don’t still want to hold a book in their hand,” she said. “Movies have evolved from VHS to DVD to streaming but that doesn’t mean they’re going anywhere. They will be right here where they’ve always been: at the library.
“It’s just a matter of changing what we have to offer to reflect the current culture,” she added. “Some have moved toward e-books, others will never go away from print.”
Looking past the future
Despite what might be viewed as a threat to the existence of all libraries, the digital era — the much-daunted, technology-based future — has brought about an evolution in how media has consumed; not a decree that outlaws consumption altogether.
Horton realizes that Trumbull is in “the middle of the pack when it comes to the evolution of libraries and media resources” and that’s why she hopes the person replacing her is someone who can help the system evolve faster.
Trying to look past the arrival of the future, the town’s library director said that five-to-10 years down the line, the building will still exist and still serve a similar purpose it does today, in 2016.
“I don’t see them ever going away, but what libraries need to embrace — in order to succeed — is the idea of being a community center that has a digital presence,” she said.
While technology has changed the outlook, Horton thinks it would be foolish to ignore the good, old-fashioned hands-on learning that takes place every day at the library.
“Training classes here still present a great value to our residents,” she said. “I expect that you’ll see an expansion of our classes that meets the evolving needs of the community — computers, tablets and other devices.”
Always be involved
John Annick, a member of the library’s Board of Directors and a member of the Trumbull Chamber of Commerce board, has inspired Horton during an almost decade-long stint in Trumbull.
“The real-life Energizer Bunny,” she laughed.
“He told me very early that if you’re going to be here, you have to always be involved,” she added. “I listened to that and it motivated me.”
Looking back to her earlier days as director, Horton recalls another phrase that served as an inspiration.
“A couple of years into the job we had a branding session and we came away with ‘It’s all here for you,’” she said. “It’s a little dated, but it still applies today — we have all the resources you could possibly want.”
Horton said she will miss the Trumbull community the most and the library community that includes 13 full-time staffers and 30 part-time workers.
For those in town who she hasn’t met — and might not ever meet — she had one word of advice that echoes that theme from many years ago.
“If they walk through that door, I guarantee they will find something that fits an interest,” the librarian said. “And I hope they do come, because this is the town jewel — a place for everybody to share and come together.”