Following a highly contentious search for a new director in which vocal members of the community challenged the motives and leadership of the library’s board of trustees, the board today announced the appointment of Alex Geller to be its next manager.
Geller earned his B.A. in history in 2012 from Oberlin College and both an M.L.S. and M.A. in history, pursued simultaneously, from Indiana University. He holds a New York State Public Librarian Certification.
“I am thrilled and humbled to join the Red Hook Public Library as the new manager at this critical time for public libraries, the Red Hook community, and the region,” Geller said in a statement. “I thank the Board of Trustees not only for this opportunity but for the thoroughness and seriousness they brought to the hiring process.”
Geller currently serves as the Senior Manager for Programs and Partnerships at NYPACE, an economic development non-profit organization based in New York City. He will start on June 5.
Geller replaces Dawn Jardine, who retired in February after six years at the helm. Toby Tieger, a Tivoli native, has been serving as the interim library manager. Despite community concerns that public programming would come to a halt during the search, that did not happen. Tieger has published vibrant newsletters, including one this week, announcing an array of programs for the months of April and May.
Board chair Don O’Shea described the search as deliberate and thoughtful. “During the interview process, we became convinced that Alex is the right leader for this moment in the library’s history,” O’Shea said. “The breadth and depth of his experience and his innovative approaches to challenges and opportunities suggest that we can look forward to a bright future for Red Hook Public Library.”
Geller’s appointment follows an unusually public display of agitation after the board announced that it would not be promoting Amy Smith, the library’s manager for public programs and youth services, to the top post. One community leader, Melkorka Kjarval, who serves as a trustee for the Village of Red Hook Board of Trustees, posted a large poster supporting Smith in the window of her house, which sits just to the south of the library. Then, at a public meeting of the board on March 16, Congressman Marc Molinaro (R-19), a long-time Red Hook resident who is the father of four children, attended with his wife to urge the board to pause its search. Others demanded more transparency in the search.
One of those concerned at the time was Sam Rose, co-owner of Four Corners Farm. On Friday evening, he said he looked forward to meeting Geller. “I welcome the newly hired manager to Red Hook, and I look forward to hearing more about his vision for the library,” Rose said.
Smith resigned from the library in late March.
Meanwhile, other members of the community said they fully supported the library board, as well as its decision to look for a leader other than Smith.
Following the staff departures, numerous programs were canceled at the library, and the majority of these have yet to return. For instance, pre-school nature walks, home-school meetups, Minecraft, around-the-word book clubs, and preschool storytime all canceled during April, according to the library’s calendars. Some programs are returning, such as Spanish as a second language.
Geller started his public library career in Austin, Texas as a Senior Administrator in branch services, managing the circulation staff, budget, and adult programming at the Austin Public Library.
After a brief stint at Vanderbilt University, providing digital humanities instruction, Geller served as the founding outreach librarian for the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Mass. In that role, Geller developed resources, partnerships, and programs supporting environmental sustainability, civic engagement, and accessibility, including the Berkshire Seed Library, the Berkshire Book Bike, Speed Repping, the Library of Things, and the Berkshire Natural Resources Council’s Library in the Wilderness program.
He also built safety measures addressing the opioid crisis, including Narcan distribution and training, and partnered with the Free Clinic to provide health screenings monthly, according to a press release and Geller’s LinkedIn profile.
The Library in the Wilderness program, created in partnership with the Berkshire Athenaeum and Pittsfield’s Public Library, provides community members with access to supplies to have safe, fun, and educational outdoor experiences. It also offers workshops on hiking, local flora and fauna, and land stewardship.
Library cardholders are able to check out backpacks equipped with field guides, the library’s park passes, local trail guides, a basic first aid kit, a compass, a magnifying glass, two ponchos, and bug spray, just as they would a library book.
Following his time in Pittsfield, Geller served as the Programs and Partnerships Librarian and Volunteer Manager for the Arlington Public Library in Virginia. He oversaw programming staff and evaluated 4,000 programs a year, including Arlington Reads, Arlington Public Library’s long-running signature author talk program featuring Roxane Gay, Tommy Orange, Colson Whitehead, and others, and directed a cross-functional team to implement digital, health, economic development, and racial equity plans, programs, and policies. In Arlington, Geller also founded the P.E.P. Cafe, which provided work readiness skills training for students with developmental disabilities.
In his most recent position as a Senior Manager at NYPACE, Geller directed the program staff and 150 volunteers, establishing work plans, tracking deadlines, and overseeing deliverables. He also served as the acting development manager, securing grants and donations ranging between $10,000 and $550,000.
In 2021, Geller was awarded a Penguin Random House Library Innovation grant for his MyBook project, a free book program for elementary school students to prevent learning losses due to Covid-related closures. He has also served on the American Library Association’s Committee on Library Advocacy and on the Board of Volunteer Arlington.
Geller currently is based in Brooklyn, according to his LinkedIn profile. His moving plans were not detailed by the Red Hook library board.
Geller will have the New York state civil service designation of library manager, according to Anna Greig, who is a member of the library’s board and who announced Geller’s appointment. “We have often referred to the leader of the library as the director colloquially,” Greig said. Geller would need to take several exams to be eligible for the title of director, she said. Jardine also held the title of manager.