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Incoming Vt. state librarian on accessible libraries, bridging the digital divide and ice swimming

A woman smiles in the camera, looking to her right
Office of Governor Phil Scott, courtesy
Incoming Vermont State Librarian Cathy Delneo shares her passion for libraries, her commitment to accessible and inclusive places and her hobbies like ice swimming with VPR.

Next month, Vermont will welcome a new state librarian. Chittenden County native Cathy Delneo comes to the role with more than 25 years of experience in libraries, most recently as the chief of branches for the San Francisco Public Library.

On how she decided to make her career in the world of libraries:

Cathy Delneo: I went to college and got an undergraduate degree as a philosophy major, and I kind of realized my senior year that I didn't really know what to do next. Like, where would I go from there?

And I thought about my life, and I thought, what did I enjoy doing the most? And I really just had kind of a flood of memories of all of the different library spaces I had been in, and how I really enjoyed that environment. If it was the public library — I used to use the Howe Library [at the University of Vermont] a lot when I was in high school — so college libraries, elementary school libraries, I just always found myself gravitating to libraries. And so I explored different programs, and I decided to go to the Rutgers University Library and Information Science program. And so that's sort of how I got into libraries to begin with.

On the role libraries play in society today:

I really see libraries as the place where people can access information and resources. And that could be physical collections, like books or audio books or media, or it could be online resources.

In our libraries, we help people who are needing bridges to get across the digital divide. When we think about everything that's gone online in the past couple of years with the pandemic — when so many people don't have computers or internet access at home — our public libraries are a place for that really valuable connection to the internet. To that information that's online.

And then additionally, our libraries are convening spaces. They're places where we have amazing public programs, and where neighbors can meet each other and learn new things and share information. So really, for me, the library is the center of lifelong learning. It's a place that can help people to achieve whatever their life goal is — if it's like a new skill that they need for their job or their career, to get them to the next level. Or even if it's something like, they want to know the best place in their garden to put a tomato. That's something that you can find at your library.

On how her work in San Francisco will inform her role in Vermont:

I want to say first off, that I'm super impressed with all of the work that's happening already at the [Vermont] State Library... What I confirmed is that there's a lot of synergy and overlap between the focus of what I've been doing in San Francisco, and what's going on in Vermont and at the State Library... Both organizations are really focused on expanding awareness of our services and access to those services. That could be physical access, like ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessibility to our library spaces. Or it could be access in terms of welcoming people to our spaces, and making sure that everybody in the community really feels like this is their library — this is a place for them. This is a place that is welcoming, and really using a justice, equity, diversity and inclusion lens in our work. Looking closely at what we're doing and evaluating it, and how does it resonate with the people who are really trying to serve? So that everybody in the community feels welcome to the space and to access the services, and to ask a question, free of any kind of judgment.

On her hobbies of long-distance swimming and ice swimming:

My ice swimming experience actually started because I'm a clumsy runner, or I used to be a runner. I was trying to do all of the training that needed to be done to do a trail running marathon, and I twisted my ankle repeatedly, and I was not able to run anymore.

And I was already an open-water swimmer. But I was also finding kicking was a little bit painful. So I went through PT [physical therapy] and then eventually had surgery. I realized that really cold water was great, because my ankle did not hurt at all while I swam. And so I started going up to Lake Tahoe and taking dips in in Lake Tahoe in the winter time. And I found out that there was something called an "ice mile" and that it was something I could work towards. So with a good friend of mine, Karen Rogers, we trained for probably two or three months, and then we we did ice miles, which are a mile distance that is done in water that is below 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Broadcast live on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

Connor Cyrus was co-host and senior producer of Vermont Edition from 2021-2023.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.