Hometown Hero: Whatever you’re looking for at Concord Public Library, Robbin Bailey can help you find it

Concord reference librarian Robbin Bailey answers question as she reads to the young children upstairs at the library.

Concord reference librarian Robbin Bailey answers question as she reads to the young children upstairs at the library. GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

Concord reference librarian Robbin Bailey reads to the young children upstairs at the library.

Concord reference librarian Robbin Bailey reads to the young children upstairs at the library. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Concord reference librarian Robbin Bailey answers question as she reads to the young children upstairs at the library.

Concord reference librarian Robbin Bailey answers question as she reads to the young children upstairs at the library. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 04-07-2024 1:39 PM

Modified: 04-08-2024 1:16 PM


People often go to the library looking for something quite specific: the next mystery novel in a series, a tax form or maybe a political memoir. But, as any regular knows, libraries hold so much more than books between the stacks: free and engaging programming for kids, a sense of community among fellow literature lovers and friendly faces who remember not just your name but your tastes.

In her 30 years at the Concord Public Library, whatever it is that people sought, Robbin Bailey has helped them find it.

“People come into the library, and they’re looking for Robbin,” said Assistant Director Mat Bose, who’s been at Concord’s public library for about six years. “I think it was one of the first things I noticed. … When people think of the library, they very often are thinking of her.”

When library frequent-flier Matthew St. Onge has a question, he said Bailey is always his go-to for answers.

“There are some people you can just talk to,” St. Onge said. “Robbin is a person who is always there, always visible, always smiling. … She always has the right answers.”

As the reference librarian, Bailey by definition is a key point person for anyone with questions, but colleagues and patrons said she goes above and beyond.

Whether it’s incorporating song into weekly story time or going all out for any kind of occasion that would be better in costume, colleagues said, Bailey’s enthusiasm breathes life into the library. Beyond her energy, they emphasized, her wealth of institutional knowledge and deep community connections make Concord and its library better.

“She has a great memory for faces and for people that we’ve worked with over the years,” Director Todd Fabian said. “She’s so friendly, so kind and patient. … Her attitude is contagious.”

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Archivist, Reference and Outreach Coordinator Jennifer Needham said that Bailey’s connection with new and longstanding library visitors not only makes them feel welcome at the library but made her feel at home.

Needham came to Concord last summer after having worked in an array of different types of library jobs — at school libraries, in research libraries and as an assistant director.

“Now that I’m at a public library, it is a completely different energy and relationship with the public,” Needham said. “I’ve definitely found where I want to be and I think a lot of it does have to do with the relationships that librarians here build with their patrons.”

No one models that better, she said, than Bailey.

Bailey didn’t always know she was destined to be a librarian — when she first graduated college, she didn’t know what she wanted to pursue. She’d been bookish her entire life, so she took a job at a bookstore. It made her realize that the fact that she “just loved books, loved being around the materials.”

Bailey went back to school to get a library science degree and then jumped in at Concord. As of December, that was 30 years ago.

“I love the variety of it and that I get to work with all sorts of different people every day,” she said.

There’s a thrill for Bailey in helping someone track down, for example, the travel book that’s most relevant to the trip to China they’re trying to plan or if someone liked the last book she recommended, finding them three more.

“Sometimes it’s not the subject of the book; sometimes it’s the writing or just the really compelling characters” that grip a reader, she said. “You don’t always know if you’re on the right track, but when you get it right, it is the most satisfying thing.”

Bailey is also keenly aware of the essential services librarians provide. Helping someone set up their first email address may seem like a small task, she said, but she knows that it could change their life, helping them to get new work or education. The library is also the only place in Concord with tax forms and, this time of year, it’s a frequent request.

Also heavily involved in programming, Bailey is especially fond of Books and Brew, a reimagined book club where, eschewing the assigned reading model of a traditional group, members get together and just gush about whatever they’re reading at the moment. She also redesigns the library’s doll house diorama each month, tucking little secrets in corners for kids to find, and plans all kinds of events, including the annual Oscar’s watch party — for which she’s always dressed to the nines.

As service industry jobs become more and more trying and as librarians have had to adapt to changing technology and community needs, Fabian said, Bailey’s genuineness and buy-in are exceptional.

“A lot of people who work public-facing jobs can tell you, people aren’t as friendly these days as they were 10 years ago,” he said. “Her personality and her positivity, it’s something we can all take a lesson from.”