SARANAC LAKE - The Saranac Lake Free Library has a new director, and chances are many library patrons already know him or at least recognize his face.
Peter Benson was hired recently by the library's board of trustees. A Saranac Lake resident, Benson worked at the library for nearly three years as the part-time evening librarian. More recently he was the librarian at the Malone campus of North Country Community College for the past year-and-a-half.
Monday was Benson's first day on the job as director of the Saranac Lake library.
Peter Benson started work Monday as the new director of the Saranac Lake Free Library.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"I've been very welcomed here," Benson told the Enterprise during an interview in his office. "The staff is great. Of course, I've had the benefit of having worked with all of them, and they're great at what they do. And there's been a number of community members I've been introduced to, and they're all very welcoming."
Benson takes the reins of the Saranac Lake library following the February death of Betsy Whitefield, who had been its director for nearly 25 years. Benson said he knew Whitefield very well; the two curled together for 10 years and were on the same traveling curling team.
"I want to continue on what she was doing," Benson said. "For Betsy, patron services was a very important aspect of librarianship. That contact the patron has with the library staff is crucial to making sure the patron has a very positive experience."
During her long tenure, Whitefield oversaw a multi-year, multi-phase building project and brought new technology into the library. Benson said he wants to continue to grow the library's services and programs, with a focus on improving its online presence.
"This is the most exciting time to be in libraries since the 1880s because everything is changing very quickly," he said. "Your library is now a worldwide library. We have a lot of people who are part-time residents, summer residents or individuals who go off to school. It's very easy for them to now stay very connected with the Saranac Lake library. We can also provide ways for them in the future to be connected in a more dynamic and current way."
Benson said he'd like to see the library offer more e-books, though he says that will only happen through partnering with a consortium of other libraries because of the high cost of e-book services.
"The places where I've seen it done successfully in other more urban areas, all of them are doing it through consortiums," he said. "It's not either-or. It's not, you're going to have e-books, or your going to have hard-copy books. It's both. It's an expansion of services for what community members want, and trying to stay ahead of those services and provide those services is what libraries do."
A Saranac Lake resident since 1977, Benson is originally from suburban New Jersey. He's been hanging around libraries since he was a child, as his mother was a librarian.
"I can remember, when I was 7 years old, getting my very first library card at the Montclair (N.J.) library," he said. "So, being involved in libraries and going to libraries is nothing new in my life, and reading has always been a real big part of my life. When I first moved here, one of the very first things I did was come over here and get a library card."
Before beginning his library career, Benson worked as a caretaker. He also was the property manager and camp administrator for Camp Eagle Island, a former Girl Scout camp on Upper Saranac Lake. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in education. He also has a master's degree in library and information sciences from the University of Alabama.
"I'm really glad and excited to be here, and I'd encourage everyone to come to the library," Benson said. "If they don't they have a library card, they should come in and get one. It's free."