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Ilsley Library Director Kevin Unrath to leave for job in Shelburne

MIDDLEBURY — Kevin Unrath will soon step down as director of Middlebury’s Ilsley Public Library in order to take the top administrative post at Shelburne’s Pierson Library.
Unrath confirmed his plans to the Middlebury selectboard this past Tuesday, July 25. He sat down with the Independent on July 27 to elaborate on his upcoming move, which he said is exclusively about geography. He and his family live in South Burlington, from which Unrath has been commuting during much of his four-and-half years with the Ilsley. He and his partner welcomed a new daughter, Celeste, in March. Unrath wants to cut down on his commute in order to have more time with the baby.
“Commuting from South Burlington has been too much of a challenge,” Unrath said.
He recently learned Shelburne was looking for a new library director. He reasoned the Pearson post will place him a lot closer to home and allow him to continue to lead a well-supported community library.
There are many similarities between the Ilsley and Pierson libraries, according to Unrath.
Both serve core populations of around 8,000 people, though Middlebury College students add to the Ilsley clientele during the academic year.
Both have facilities in need of an overhaul.
Both are busier than the statewide average, in terms of per capita transactions at libraries.
Unrath believes Ilsley and Pierson libraries have also developed strong traditions of promoting literacy within their respective communities. That commitment, in Middlebury, springs in part from the college, according to Unrath. Shelburne, meanwhile, has a strong cultural partner in the museum and farm that shares its name.
“I think people choose to live in Shelburne and Middlebury for quality of life,” Unrath said, noting their respective libraries add to that quality.
Kevin Unrath began his job at the Ilsley Library in early 2014. He had previously been in charge of borrower services at the Middletown Township (New Jersey) Public Library. He was one of around 30 people who applied for the top administrative job vacated by former Ilsley Director David Clark.
It’s a job that Unrath has thoroughly enjoyed. He’s helped fortify the library’s programs and has helped the organization’s board of trustees map out plans to renovate and expand space within the 93-year-old building at 75 Main St. Trustees are commissioning a fundraising feasibility study for the building project, which the Independent will detail in the coming weeks.
And lest anyone think Unrath is really leaving in order to avoid the challenges of the Ilsley building project, hear this: He’s heading to a library that is taking on a similar construction effort. Shelburne voters in November will be asked to approve a plan to refurbish and substantially expand the Pierson Library.
Plans call for upgrades to the former, historic Shelburne Town Hall building in which the Pierson Library shares space, according to Unrath. The $6.5 million project would also involve demolition of a current, 6,000-square-foot library addition and replacing it with a new structure of roughly 12,000 square feet, Unrath noted.
He’ll have the unenviable task of maintaining library services for Shelburne residents during construction (if voters approve the November bond issue). Pierson officials may need to nail down some temporary space to accommodate some library supplies and functions while the heaviest work is in progress.
But Unrath is not intimidated by the Pierson project, and will continue to work on Ilsley’s expansion plans until he makes his official exit on Aug. 23.
“I think this is an OK time to have a transition,” Unrath said. “We’ve finished architectural planning for (the Ilsley) building project and we are transitioning to the fundraising phase. It makes sense, from my perspective, to hand the reins to someone else.”
Ilsley trustees are drafting a job description they will use to attract candidates in what will be a national search. Unrath believes the job will attract a lot of good candidates, given the library’s solid reputation.
Unrath has played a strong role in burnishing that reputation. He is particularly proud of the work the organization has done in the area of youth literacy. He credited Youth Services Librarian Tricia Allen for her outreach, which has included story-time sessions during the free summer lunch program in Middlebury. Children can also receive donated books with their free lunches.
The library has also collaborated with Middlebury Community Television in creating a digital media lab and a “makers space,” in which citizens are able to create innovative content.
Asked what he’ll miss most about his Ilsley work, he immediately said, “The people.”
“When I decided to become a librarian, I did it because I loved books,” Unrath said. “But as I have grown in my career, I’ve worked more with people and less with books. I really enjoy working with people who love reading, learning and books.”
John Freidin, longtime Ilsley Library trustee and a leader of the building project effort, said Unrath will be greatly missed.
“Kevin has been an excellent leader and manager,” Freidin said. “He recruited a superb staff and initiated processes that have made the library better and more efficient. His thoughtfulness and planning will continue to serve Ilsley for years after he leaves. Shelburne is lucky to have him. Ilsley anticipates recruiting another excellent director to build on Kevin’s legacy.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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