Bixby picks Independent ad manager as library director

VERGENNES — The Bixby Memorial Library board of trustees has chosen longtime Addison Independent advertising manager and Addison resident Jane Spencer to fill its newly created position of library director.
After 31 years at the Independent, 28 leading its advertising department, Spencer will officially assume her new job on Aug. 29, said Bixby board of trustees president Thelma “Kitty” Oxholm.
Bixby head librarian Rachel Plant will remain on her job and assume some new duties — the now-vacant position of part-time children’s librarian will not be filled.
Oxholm cited Spencer’s knowledge of the Vergennes library — she served a three-year term on the Bixby board that ended in 2008 — and history of community involvement as important reasons for the hiring decision.
“She … has a good understanding of what was needed here,” Oxholm said. “That, plus the fact she knows the community and knows people. It all came together.”
Oxholm also said finances played a major role in the decision. The library will have to increase its annual operating budget of roughly $200,000 to fund the new full-time position, even though the Bixby’s fiscal picture remains uncertain.
Its endowment now stands at $350,000, down from more than $500,000 a decade ago, as the board has had to dip into principal to support annual costs and needed maintenance to the aging Main Street building.
But Oxholm said the Bixby board believes hiring Spencer will be a financial plus.
“Obviously, Jane is going to be paid more than the part-time children’s librarian,” Oxholm said. “We feel that Jane will have the time and ability to raise more money for us.”
Although her new job description includes “seeking grants, gifts and other new sources of non-tax funding for the library,” Oxholm said Spencer’s proven track record in sales — Independent publisher Angelo Lynn estimated that advertising revenue quadrupled during her tenure, outstripping inflation — might be more important.
Oxholm said that background would help Spencer demonstrate the Bixby’s value to area residents, towns and potential donors.
“Salesmanship is not a dirty word, in my opinion … We have to sell this building and what we do every day, I think, and that’s what we see her doing,” Oxholm said, adding, “She has a really good outlook on things, and she is imaginative, and she sees things that other people just don’t see. We think she may come up with some other ideas not only for fund-raising, but for community outreach, which is extremely important.”
Spencer said that the Bixby already has many good programs, but her new position will allow her to research and create more for the five towns the library serves — Vergennes, Waltham, Panton, Addison and Ferrisburgh. That, in turn, she believes, will translate to a brighter financial picture.
“Part of that challenge will be finding out what those communities actually need,” Spencer said. “Everybody loves to read. Everybody loves movies. Everybody loves to be part of their community on whatever level is comfortable for them, and I’m thinking that the Bixby is there to help make that happen.”
“It’s like what comes first, the chicken or the egg, basically. There are some real financial challenges for the Bixby. And I agree that more services are going to make people be more supportive of the library.”
The Bixby board’s decision means major changes there, as well as for Spencer and the Independent.
Ultimately, Oxholm said the board felt there was too much to do for its volunteer members and for Plant.
“A lot of it is the building, and everything else that goes on, the fund-raising, the grant-writing, is just an awful lot that is beyond the scope of a librarian,” she said. “And we felt that it was going to really help the library out to do it, to have someone who could focus on those things and not on the day-to-day operation of the books going out.”
Oxholm said Plant is on board with the restructuring. 
“Rachel will focus on the literary needs of everybody. She’s very excited,” she said.
The Bixby has also just filled the vacant job of assistant librarian: Dianne Lawson, who has served as the librarian at Shoreham’s Platt Memorial Library, will soon start.
Spencer, 62, has worked half her life at the Middlebury newspaper, starting as a part-time ad representative in 1980 before taking over the department three years later.
As much as the opportunity at the Bixby intrigued her, Spencer said her decision did not come easily.
“It’s been a lot more than a job to me. I love the Addison Independent. I love how it serves the community. I love the customers, the clients that I work with. And quite honestly, I love the people here,” she said. “But the Bixby presented some new challenges for me, and I thought there was a tremendous amount I could learn, as well as contribute. It was that combination of things that really enticed me.”
Lynn bought the Independent in 1984, when the paper published one edition a week and special sections were rare. Lynn credited Spencer for doing a “phenomenal job” in helping provide the advertising revenue to support two regular editions and an average of roughly one special section per week.
Lynn said Spencer has also served as a “real important liaison” between the paper and the business community.
“Jane’s out there and she sees more businesspeople than anybody does, and that ad department does, and they’ve just done a really fine job of making the connection between the newspaper and the business community in every town in the community,” Lynn said.
“That’s the kind of thing that supports the news product. We have to have that. We’re first a business … What our heart and soul is, is news, but we can’t do any of that without having the advertising base and serving the business community.”
Lynn said Spencer’s two months of notice will allow for a smooth transition, and the Independent will soon open a search for a new ad manager, or possibly two ad managers, with one more responsible for special sections.
“It might take two people to replace Jane,” Lynn said. “We’ll bring somebody in and they’ll do a good job. But you never replace some people.”
Lynn said he and all the Independent staff wish Spencer well in her new job.
“Jane has just been wonderful to this newspaper the whole time. She’s been here for 31 years. That’s longer, I’m sure, than she expected when she started this. But at the same time this is a great opportunity for her to spread her wings in a different direction and learn new things,” he said. “And we’re happy for Jane that she can find a place like the Bixby that’s close to her community and she can be a part of and keep her serving the community, because that’s what she really loves to do.” 
Spencer said it was on her current job that she saw the Bixby library director ad come across her desk.
“When I read the ad there was something inside me that just clicked. There was something that said, ‘Jane Spencer, you match up with this,’” she said. “So I’m thinking sometimes your intuition takes over and you just know that something is right for you, and I think this job is right for me.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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