April 19, 2018

Erica Freudenberger | Movers & Shakers 2016 – Community Builders

Erica Freudenberger


Library Director, Red Hook Public Library, NY


MLIS in progress, San José State University, CA


@redhooklibrary (Twitter); redhooklibrary.org; redhooklibrary (Facebook)

Photo ©2016 Shawn G. Henry

Red Hook Renaissance

When the Red Hook Public Library’s (RHPL) Erica Freudenberger became director in 2010, the library was nearly as tired and burned out as she had once been. “It had a reputation as being a profoundly unfriendly place and was for the most part off the radar of…the community,” she says.

In May 2007, Freudenberger had left behind her 14-hour-a-day job as managing editor of a weekly newspaper to be a part-time clerk at the Stone Ridge Public Library, NY. Several increasingly managerial library positions followed.

Now, five years after taking the helm at RHPL, it is a nationally recognized standard bearer for small libraries. In 2015, it was named a finalist for the Library Journal Best Small Library in America Award—a finish that came with a $10,000 grant funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—and also received the Joseph F. Shubert Library Excellence Award.

Since 2010, annual visits have jumped 250 percent, circulation is up 23 percent, program attendance 102 percent, and the budget by 97 percent to $324,990, notes Freudenberger. “Our funding is determined directly by our voters, so we’re happy that they’ve made the decision to support us,” she says.

How did she do it?

Collaboration, partnership, and community engagement, she says. “We’ve chosen to focus on helping our community reach its aspirations, which has transformed how people feel about the library and our community.”

“Erica turned outward to the people of Red Hook [pop. 1,971] to seek their input on improvements,” says one nominator, Beth Zambito, an early childhood librarian at nearby Newburgh Free Library, NY. Freudenberger is also a member of the New York Library Association’s (NYLA) Sustainability Initiative Committee.

Knocking on doors, Freudenberger and her small team identified local needs and responded, creating a children’s library and developing hundreds of programs, such as Ladies Who Launch, with the Chamber of Commerce, for women trying to get back into the workforce. With Bard College and the school district as partners, she established STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts, math]–oriented mobile Maker labs for kids who couldn’t get to the library—and brought the program to the local high school. The Digital Native Program, using high schoolers to help patrons, was adopted countywide and renamed Teen Geeks.

Freudenberger has no plans to slow down. “[We’ll continue to] hold programs where people are, rather than waiting for them to discover us,” she says, including at local retirement communities and nursing homes. She also wants to offer mobile ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) classes to migrant workers and partner with a local hospital “to create a community-focused initiative to address common health concerns in our area,” she says.

And there’s more. “We’ll be working with our community partners to…create opportunities for our twentysomethings to remain in the area,” Freudenberger says. “That should keep us busy for the next couple of years.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.