If she hadn’t become a lawyer, would the new branch manager at Conshohocken Free Library have discovered she actually wanted to be a librarian?
Sydney Mason spends much of each week coming up with answers for people with questions. But — no — even Mason, who joined the Conshohocken Free Library staff last month, doesn’t have an answer for that one.
What she does know …
“Working as a librarian is so rewarding … helping someone to find the solution to a problem or getting someone hooked up with a book they end up loving or an author who ends up being one of their favorites,” Mason believes. “It’s a great job.”
That said, the Lumberville, N.J., native’s path to the 110-year-old library at 301 Fayette St. in Conshohocken was … well, circuitous.
Mason graduated from Massachusetts’ Wheaton College with a degree in English Language and Literature in 1988 and went on to earn a juris doctorate at University of Pennsylvania Law School.
One of her earliest experiences meant working with a Family Court judge whose caseload revolved around issues like divorce and child custody — “interesting but emotionally draining.”
Along the way, she and her husband became parents — a son currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Washington, followed by a daughter about to enter her junior year at Bucknell University — and Mason did legal research from home.
She also passed the New Jersey Bar but ultimately concluded she preferred a career in legal research to one in the courtroom. With that in mind, she added a library degree from Rutgers University to her dossier because “there seemed to be more opportunity in the field for people with both legal and library degrees.”
“It was then, while I was doing my library studies and taking any internship I could get, that I realized there’s a big world out there … beyond the legal field,” Mason continues.
Bottom line, she found she favored the multi-faceted role of public librarian over that of legal specialist. Internships and short-term posts that ran the gamut from Philadelphia’s Post & Schell law firm to the New Jersey State Library, Moorestown, N.J., Library and the library at Rowan College confirmed that.
Most recently, Mason combined part-time positions as assistant director at Stratford, N.J., Public Library and school librarian at Doane Academy in Burlington, N.J.
When the Conshohocken Free Library branch manager slot became available, Mason jumped at the chance to join the extended Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library network.
“Conshohocken just seemed like a perfect fit,” she explains. “The branch is similar in size to the one I worked at before, but I like the idea of being part of a bigger system. This gives me the best of both worlds … a local library but one that gives me direct access to other resources and professionals — and other ideas — beyond (Conshohocken Free Library). It also allows me to work with all ages, which I’ve already had an opportunity to do — everyone from lawyers to college students and preschoolers.”
Mason understands contemporary libraries face challenges that are much different from the ones that inspired Benjamin Franklin and members of the Junto club to establish this country’s first public library in July 1731.
Yes, money (the high cost of buying books back then) was at the heart of Franklin’s project, and budget shortfalls continue to be a problem. But today’s public libraries also deal with a myriad of issues and services that were unheard of nearly three centuries ago.
One example: The multitude of digital and online resources libraries offer — from basic computer assistance to audio books that can be downloaded onto phones and advice about academic websites that provide more specific answers than Google.
“A key challenge today is letting people know that libraries are a lot more than books,” Mason says.
The new branch manager notes Conshohocken Free Library’s “incredibly active Friends of the Library group” is a powerful partner to that end.
“Having such a supportive group of volunteers behind you makes all the difference in the world,” she says.
Brian Coll, who heads Conshohocken Free Library’s executive board, and his colleagues couldn’t be happier to have found Mason.
“We’re thrilled to welcome her to Conshohocken,” he says. “She has such a broad range of experience — in both public and school libraries — and we can’t wait to see how she uses that experience here. With Miss Binnie (Lavinia Anderson) and Miss Lorraine (Gambone), we already have two excellent (staffers), so we’re very excited.”