Catherine Creedon, who has served as the director of the John Jermain Memorial Library for the past 14 years and who shepherded it through a building project that would have tested the patience of Job, has informed the library board that she plans to step down when her contract expires at the end of the year.
Ms. Creedon acknowledged that the moment was bittersweet. “I feel so lucky to have been here,” she said. “What a gift it’s been to be able to make a difference not only in the place I live — because I’m lucky enough to live in Sag Harbor, but to be able to make a difference in a profession I care so much about.”
Ms. Creedon, 68, said she had informed the board she would stay on “for as long as it takes to find a candidate who will move the library forward.” But she was quick to say, she is not calling her departure a retirement because, she said, she expects to continue working on a part-time basis, perhaps in a field outside of libraries.
Ms. Creedon, who grew up in Minnesota and is as self-effacing as any self-respecting Midwesterner can be, is quick to credit everyone but herself for her successful tenure.
“I have an extraordinary staff, amazing board members, who have volunteered heart and soul, and members of the community who have mentored me in areas that were not necessarily my strong suit,” she said.
Ms. Creedon said it was a matter of some happenstance that she ever ended up in Sag Harbor, let alone as library director.
In January 1982, Ms. Creedon and her husband, artist Scott Sandel, were living in a cabin heated with a wood-burning stove in Long Lake, Minnesota, while she worked at the local library. “You could cross-country ski to work,” she said. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
The couple made extra money transporting sailboats from a small manufacturer in Wisconsin and that month made a delivery to Yale University. They had planned to go to New York City, but Ms. Creedon, who was serving as navigator, fell asleep, and her husband took a wrong turn and ended up in New London, where they decided to take the ferry to Long Island. They eventually found their way to Sag Harbor, fell in love with the village and decided to move here.
“I’m sure it was Mrs. Sage guiding me,” Ms. Creedon said, referring to Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, who gave the village its library, Pierson High School, and Mashashimuet Park, among other gifts, in the 19th century.
It was a similar bit of happenstance that led her to become a librarian in the first place. Ms. Creedon said she was driving a bookmobile in Hennepin County, Minnesota, when she took the bus home one day instead of riding her bike, because it was raining. She sat in the only empty seat on the bus, and the man sitting next to her struck up a conversation. When he asked her if she planned to get a degree in library science, she replied, “No, by the time I finish my degree, I’d be 27,” to which he rejoined, “You are going to be 27 anyway.” Something clicked, and she started her application to return to school the following day.
Ms. Creedon, who said she never stayed at a job for more than 16 months before becoming JJML director, worked three different stints at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton and also at the Ross School, the Morriss Center, Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in East Hampton, and as a freelance storyteller, after moving to the East End.
When the library was searching for a new director in 2007, library board President Christiane Neuville approached Ms. Creedon to see if she would be interested in the job. Ms. Creedon turned her down. Ms. Neuville would not be deterred, and asked Ms. Creedon to explain why she did not want the job.Ms. Creedon said the library was going through a difficult period at the time, with community opposition to a proposal to build a new facility next to Mashashimuet Park, among other things, and she simply did not feel it was the right job for her at the time.
But she said Ms. Neuville, who had been in the French Resistance during World War II, pulled out all the stops as she lectured her about the importance of serving the community. “When she was finished talking to me, I was literally down on my knees, asking if I could apply,” Ms. Creedon said.
In June 2009, voters approved a nearly $10 million bond to expand the Main Street library, but that project ran headlong into a series of obstacles, from a village review process that lasted for three years — the library didn’t receive a building permit until 2012 — to major construction problems. Chief among them was the discovery that the soil was too sandy for horizontal supports originally envisioned, requiring a costly alternative that involved screw-in pilings that had to be made of stainless steel so they would not be corroded by the groundwater.
With the delays, the costs grew, too, until the job finally came in at $15 million. The library raised the extra $5 million needed to complete the project through grants and donations from the community that proved it was committed to the library, Ms. Creedon said.
Although the technology has certainly changed, Ms. Creedon said the library’s mission has remained the same since it first opened its doors in 1910. The first librarian, Olive Pratt Young, offered English classes to the immigrant laborers who worked in the village’s factories, and she purchased a Victrola so that patrons could listen to music. “It was never just about books,” Ms. Creedon said. “The library’s mission is to provide equitable access to everyone in the community.”
Over the past year, with the pandemic forcing widespread closures, Ms. Creedon said she was proud of the way the library responded, providing patrons with internet hotspots that were later expanded to internet access kits, which included Chromebooks patrons could bring home.
“The library’s mission is to provide equitable access to data and literature to everyone in the community,” she said.
Just as her younger employees have taught her about new technologies, Ms. Creedon said she looked forward to a bright future for the institution.
“I’m excited for the library,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what the next chapter is going to be.”