New Bixby director returns to her roots
Catharine is a natural collaborator, ready to connect immediately with our five-town community.
— Bixby Board President Paula Moore
VERGENNES — The new director of the Bixby Free Memorial Library studied in Switzerland and Washington, D.C; worked high-powered government and corporate jobs in D.C. and New Jersey; and then held influential positions in the nonprofit and academic worlds in New York City and Philadelphia.
Catharine Findiesin Hays also spent her early years on an Addison family orchard, Yankee Kingdom, on the shores of Lake Champlain, and the 1980 graduate of Georgetown University had always wanted to return to Vermont.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while now and actually went back up there in the dead of winter to make sure that I wasn’t fantasizing about my childhood when I was making snowmen and everything,” said Hays in a phone interview from her Mendon, N.J., home.
“So I always thought my whole life that I would get back to Vermont. I just wasn’t sure when. So this feels like the right time.”
The Bixby board recently hired Hays after a 10-week search that produced 25 candidates and two finalists. Hays will begin working remotely this Friday, and she will spend a week at the Bixby in each of the next two months before coming aboard full-time on July 1.
Hays replaces interim director Maddy Willwerth, who will return to her position as Bixby PR and organizational director. Willwerth did not seek the permanent job, and Bixby Board President Paula Moore praised her interim leadership.
“She has been phenomenal through all of this. The board cannot thank her enough for everything she has done,” Moore said. “I can’t say enough good things about Maddy in this interim role.”
Moore said although Hays lacked a library science degree, her impressive résumé and approach to the position carried the day.
“Catharine is a natural collaborator, ready to connect immediately with our five-town community,” she said. “People clearly come first for her, and I believe people will respond very positively to her enthusiasm for the Bixby.”
Hays discussed that approach with the Independent. During 14 years with AT&T she devoted much of her time to leadership development, and her efforts with the American Cancer Society included developing corporate partnerships.
“Partnerships in general are important across the board, and certainly something I did when I was in academia,” Hays said. “Being responsible about resources means entering into them as much as possible, but not just about money. It’s expertise, people, passion, other efforts that are aligned with what you’re trying to achieve, all of those things. It’s also more fun when you’re working with someone else.”
Hays said she became serious about returning to Vermont after that winter trip to the area, where her family still owns property in Panton. She said she began casting around for opportunities — and quickly found one.
“The day before I was going to come up here in February I was searching around for what I was going to do, there was the Bixby Library job,” Hays said. “I literally applied that day and drove up the next day and stopped by the Bixby and thought this would be an amazing next chapter.”
THERE AND BACK AGAIN
But the story really starts back on the orchard, and then stays on Grand Isle and in Jonesville. Hays graduated from Mount Mansfield Union High School, and “waitressed my way through high school and college.”
She attended Franklin College in Switzerland for two years. With a summer interning for the Vermont Department of Economic Development mixed in, Hays transferred to Georgetown University, studying international relations.
Hays worked four years for the U.S. State and Commerce departments in D.C., and then earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business as a Lauder Institute Fellow.
That led to 14 years, ending in 2002, with AT&T in marketing, executive programs and corporate sales in New Jersey.
Then came several years with the American Cancer Society in New York City, where she learned about “working with corporations, in particular to learn what those partnerships were all about.”
Eventually Hayes was recruited by Wharton’s Lauder Institute, where she co-founded Wharton’s “Future of Advertising Program,” which she led as Executive Director for a decade through 2018.
Jokingly, Hays was asked if she really felt qualified to lead the Bixby.
“I promise I am. I have a lot of experience to bring,” she laughed. “I’m very helpful.”
It will also help that Hays loves books.
“Here at home I have about 12 little libraries. Every room has a bunch of bookshelves in it. My first work-study job when I was helping to put myself through college was working as a library assistant,” she said. “It’s always been something meaningful to me in terms of education and learning and access for people.”
Hays describes herself as “pretty broad reader” and 15-year member of a book club. She said she keeps up with business and gardening books, recently finished Susan Orlean’s “The Library Book,” fondly remembers “Shogun” by James Clavell from her college years, and is currently reading “The Overstory” by Richard Powers.
As far as what she brings to the Bixby, Hays cited research that shows that targeting multiple goals rather than sacrificing one for another produces more creativity and better outcomes.
“That is a great way to think about it and aspire to when you’re doing partnerships,” she said.
Hays addressed the current tough times and said she hopes the library can build upon ideas that the staff has developed during the pandemic.
“We have the opportunity to develop some new muscles, some new approaches, that we don’t want to toss out when we get back together physically,” she said.
Hays added, “We’re so much more than a beautiful building. How do we make sure people think of us when they are home in their living rooms, and they know they can access the resources and gifts the Bixby has to offer?”
She outlined simple first steps starting with talking with adult librarian Laksamee Putnam, children’s librarian Rachel Plant, Willwerth and the library’s other workers and volunteers.
“I can use that to build on the great work that’s already in place,” Hays said.
Community outreach will go hand in hand.
“I’m just going to start by listening. I just want to learn, that’s my first thing. What are the needs of the community? What are the concerns of the community?” Hays said.
Hays said she is “incredibly grateful” for the chance to serve the Bixby and in turn the towns it serves, and she plans to be on the job for a while.
“I’ve got a lot of runway left in me. I’m excited about it,” Hays said. “This is an honor to have this opportunity, and it’s not the kind of thing where you pop in and pop out.”
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