Educators of NH: Susan Sinnott

Intro banner for Susan Sinnott

Why did you become a librarian?

Background information for Susan Sinnott

I started working part-time at the Portsmouth library because they asked me because someone had gotten sick. It was fun, you know, not very stressful. It became an environment that I thought of as just sort of part social life and part serious studying. None of that takes into account what you actually do as a librarian, like the mechanics of it, that was not necessarily something I was attracted to. I like talking to people who come into the library because they don’t usually come in to give you a hard time; there’s sort of a shared interest in general…it’s kind of an environment that’s compatible with my personality, so it was more that than anything else

If you could wave a magic wand and make one change to the world of public libraries, what would it be?

It would be very similar to what I would wish for schools: more respect from the community, the sense that what we do is valuable. When I was growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, the way people thought about the schools, there was a lot of respect for what was happening in the schools. There weren’t a lot of options, and the community poured their goodwill into it. Now, medicine, science, is devalued, and lack of education is even touted. Being educated takes work, and people don't seem to want to do it.

What would you miss most if you changed professions?

I would miss the people. I see lots of people coming and going and have mostly fun, and sometimes meaningful, encounters with people.  I never know exactly what’s going to happen during the day and that kind of works for being something of an introvert. I like it when people come to see me rather than having to go seek them out. So I’d have to find another way to seek people out. And I do like knowing about the books and knowing about what I should order, keeping up with what’s published and what the specific group of people that I serve like to read. 

Susan smiling with bookshelves behind her

What would you NOT miss most if you changed professions?

Oh just, you know, reports! Some meetings, deadlines, you know, annual reports to the state, the town…spreadsheets. It’s probably about 30% of job, between preparing the reports, going to the meetings, follow up…

Susan's Library Director of the Year 2023 plaque

If you could go back and change something about the way you were educated, what would it be?

I would’ve liked to have gone to a school at a younger age to a school with more rigor, where more was demanded of me. In my sophomore year we moved and I went to private schools and, oh my god. In the subjects I was good at, it was exhilarating. I’d never analyzed a poem in this way, no one who had ever taught me would know how to do that.

How do you feel about the future of libraries?

In my heart of hearts, I think libraries will exist if people want them to exist. I’m not very sympathetic to the idea that libraries are irrelevant because the world looks so different now. Libraries will exist if people want them to. They need to be aware of their mission, which is pretty basic: being a place for education, in all the different forms it can take. 

Libraries are a place for education, and you can do whatever you want within that framework, but you can’t forget that. It’s so easy to stretch the resources too thin–to become a retail establishment or day camp or something–because people and institutions want to be liked, to be popular. 

If communities want libraries, then they will exist. At this point, it’s old people and young children that sustain libraries. But if we forget everything that makes a library a library, its role in education, then I don’t think libraries should or probably will exist.

Susan sitting in a rocking chair with a big smile on her face

What tech tool do you currently use that you couldn’t live without for your work?

Niche Academy, an online platform offering continuing education funded by the state library during the pandemic. It provides a convenient and diverse range of courses. While I confess to not always completing them all, the access to knowledge and professional development is truly appreciated.

I also have a nice collection of pens that people are always trying to steal from me.

What did you fall in love with in the last 5 years that would have shocked your 17-year-old self?

Everything! Decades have passed since I was 17, and time has significantly reshaped my interests. Even becoming a librarian, a career path that would have shocked my younger self who envisioned a more glamorous or artistic pursuit, has brought immense satisfaction. Additionally, the technological advancements that were unimaginable in my youth continue to amaze.

The children's room at the Madbury Public Libary