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All in a Day’s Work

(Photo by Ellen Gilbert)
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: Princeton Public Library Head of Programming Janie Hermann juggles the current set of programs while planning the next set of programs. “It can be very pressure-filled, but most days it is a richly rewarding job that makes me feel fortunate to do something I love so much.”

Watching Janie Hermann in action at the Princeton Public Library (PPL), the word “aplomb” comes to mind. Whether she’s introducing a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright or a local personality, she brings poise and self-possession to her work, which runs the gamut from coordinating the library’s multi-faceted programs, to working regular hours on the reference desk.

—Ellen Gilbert

Becoming a librarian had more to do with happenstance than a set plan. I was originally a school teacher. I was born and raised in eastern Ontario, and had been teaching middle school there for three years when I began to worry about burning out.

Wanting other options, I thought I would apply for a master’s in education, but the deadline had passed. Library school applications were still being accepted. I applied and eventually realized that this is what I was meant to do.

I thought I would be an academic librarian but then I met Jackie Thresher (former PPL Director) at the American Library Association conference in 1998. She sold me on public libraries, and offered me the chance to build the PPL’s computer lab. I didn’t know anyone in Princeton, but the staff welcomed me warmly. I wouldn’t have lasted otherwise. I got a lot of press when I came down the circular staircase in the old library in my wedding gown several years ago.

I’ve been here for ten years now. I started out as Information Services Librarian/Trainer, and am now Program Coordinator. The success of programming at PPL is due to the effort of the entire programming team. Planning and presenting our programs is truly a team effort. I may be the public face of programming much of the time, but without the hard work of the entire team we could not do what we do.

There’s been a tenfold growth in programming since the new library opened. Forty-thousand people a year pass through here. A lot of the scheduling has to do with serendipity: when people call, and what kind of programs we’re looking for. We work on a quarterly cycle. We need to balance the offerings: author appearances, self-help talks, small group interactions, musical performances, hands-on workshops, and so on. The hardest part of the job is saying no to authors who want to speak; this is a town of authors, so there are lots of them.

We work with many different members of the community, like the Princeton Arts Council, McCarter Theatre, Princeton University Press, U.S. 1 Poets, and Passage Theater in Trenton. These liaisons are a win-win situation; it’s low-cost for the library, we present quality programs, and, once in awhile, something makes a big splash. The Friends provide most of our money, and they do a great job. I also have to prepare grant applications, though. We recently received a $1,850,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Now we’re out there trying to find the matching funds.

The Edward Albee program earlier this year was a little overwhelming. Over 400 people came. The hardest part for me is the moment just before a speaker arrives. I was standing outside waiting for Walter Isaacson at 7:27 p.m. wondering where is he? He pulled up and walked in just in time.

Some programs need time to grow. That’s where patience and wisdom, and word-of mouth comes in. When I started the Tuesday “tech talks” nine years ago only a couple of people showed up. I thought it was a concept that would endure, so I stuck with it. Now between 35 and 40 people come to each class. But it’s also okay to appeal to a small crowd. It’s not about numbers. A successful program is when the people who are there are engaged. Not everything needs a sell-out crowd. It’s also good for events to tie in with the collection and there can be book displays.

My job is wide-ranging and very detail-oriented. I spend time verifying contracts, organizing calendars, ordering room set-ups, making contacts. Often there are multiple programs; we’re very popular! The program team is maturing, and we’re making more and more connections. I am also an active blogger. I co-founded Library Garden,, and I post there regularly in my free time. In 2007 I was named a “Mover and Shaker” by Library Journal. This is an award that requires you to be nominated by your peers — it is given to 50 library workers from all across the U.S.A. and Canada every year. This spring Evan Klimpl and I are receiving the New Jersey Library Association award for the “best use of new technology” for the library Poetry Podcast Blog (

No, I’m not moving back to Canada any time soon, though I love to vacation in Kawartha (a city in east-central Ontario, whose name means “shining waters”), where I commune with the loons.

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