James Ritter: Maine State Librarian

James Ritter: Maine State Librarian

Group News posted in on 10 May 2018| comments
audience: Maine Community Foundation | last updated: 10 May 2018
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James Ritter grew up in Frederick, Maryland. He attended the University of Delaware, earning a B.A. in political science in 1993. After graduating, he worked for MBNA in Newark, Delaware, as customer service representative, and moved to Maine in November 1994 when the company expanded operations. Ritter met his wife, Heather, a Searsmont, Maine, native in 2000, and they married a few years later. He lives in Searsmont with Heather, stepdaughter Anna (who attends the University of Maine), and son James, "who is very active and keeps us busy!"

 

How did you become a librarian?  

During the late 1990s I began working with MBNA’s corporate giving foundation. Charlie Cawley, the CEO of MBNA, asked me and a few others to determine how we could help local libraries through the company’s foundation.

Tasked with this charge, we created a Library Grants Program in 1999, and I was asked to serve as director. Between 1999 and 2004, thousands of grants totaling several million dollars were awarded to many Maine libraries. As a result of this work, I became very familiar with libraries and librarians. I was nominated to serve on the Maine Library Commission. I also became a trustee of the Camden Public Library.

In early 2008, I made a pretty significant career change, from banking to librarianship! In April of that year, I became the deputy director of the Camden Public Library.

When did you start at the Maine State Library?

After four years at the Camden Public Library, an opening at the Maine State Library presented itself. In February 2012, I became the library’s Director of Reader and Information Services.

In early 2014, then State Librarian Linda Lord announced her pending retirement, effective at the end of the year. I’ll never forget a conversation we had in which she indicated that if I had any desire to pursue an application for her position, I’d need to work toward getting my master’s in library and information science (MLIS).

That’s just what I did. I started that degree program in March 2014 through Drexel University, applied for the state librarian position in the fall of 2014, and was selected as the 20th State Librarian of Maine, a position I started on January 1, 2015. I continued my degree work and completed the MLIS in December 2015 with a concentration in knowledge management and competitive intelligence.

What is one of your favorite pieces in the Maine State Library?

One of my favorite pieces comes from our map collection: “Proposed New County of KNOX in the Lime Rock Valley of Maine. September 11, 1858.” For so many reasons, the map is really cool! Not just the colors, but also the size (approximately 3 by 5 feet). 

I’ve always liked Americana and images of the American eagle, which this image displays prominently. What’s ironic is that I’m a resident of Searsmont, which was proposed to be part of Knox County, but is now in Waldo County.

Libraries are often repositories of objects other than books. What’s an unusual item in your collection?

Many people may not know that the Maine State Library has the statutory obligation to collect State of Maine government publications. Such items might be as bland as traffic study reports from the Department of Transportation (no offense DOT!) to colorful and pictorial reports offered by various agencies such as the Maine Development Commission or the former “Maine Fish and Game Department.” Often elements of these publications were illustrated by renowned artist Klir Beck.  One particularly unusual item is a chart of Maine animal tracks illustrated by Beck.

A major role of the Maine State Library is stewardship of the materials in its collection. Can you highlight one of the ways you’re doing this? 

Taking care of the physical materials that we have is vitally important. At times, we’re able to do this in-house. At others, we’ll utilize the professional services of an external partner like the Maine State Archives or the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) to help ensure that our special collections are cared for in the most responsible way possible.

Since late 2013, the Maine State Library has been able to marry the connections between access and preservation through dedicated digitization efforts. In just over five years, we have built a repository of digital items (with the help of outside partners and other state agencies) of more than 70,000 items. All of these items can be accessed through the Maine State Library’s web page and the Digital Maine Library at http://digitalmaine.com.

With regard to historically significant items, we’re able to preserve the physical item and create a digital copy, posting the latter in our Digital Maine Library for anyone to view, access, and print – worldwide. Also, anyone wishing to come to the library to study the physical item is always welcome to do so. It’s really the best of both worlds.

You have worked with the Maine Community Foundation over the years. How has this relationship affected your operations?

The support of the Maine Community Foundation has been terrific, from helping to fund and support digital microfilm machines for the public to use to making sure we have archival materials and storage.  

We’ve also worked, and will continue to work, with the foundation to help bring our historic collections to life. Supporting programming and new technologies as they relate to historic preservation has been key to how the Maine State Library offers services and access to our materials. MaineCF has been a steadfast partner in much of this work.

Libraries in Maine serve many purposes, with their roles in the community changing. What do you see as challenges/opportunities for libraries in the future?  

The challenges libraries face relate to the continued discussion around their vital and relevant role in their communities. Libraries can’t sustain themselves on flat or decreasing budgets. Libraries aren’t book warehouses, which so many people continue to think they are. And libraries aren’t going away: they are needed in our communities more than ever.  

Librarians serve a much more integral role in the communities they serve. Nationally and in Maine we’re seeing library staff “embed” themselves in community projects to help ensure that the resources and informational needs, offered through the library, can help communities make informed decisions. 

As state librarian, I can definitively say that libraries in Maine are the nodes of multiple connections and the gateways for prosperous communities. Our libraries are places that help people, make their communities stronger, and transform static information on the shelves or on the web into dynamic and lifelong knowledge that enables people to enrich themselves.

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