Kristen Budlong wanted out of the hubbub of Boston.
She was working remotely as a full-time librarian for the Kingsley Montessori School in the city during COVID-19 when, while combing the Maine Library page looking for something small and part time, the Bremen librarian position popped up on her screen.
On June 15, the first day in her new job, Budlong was greeted with flowers, a welcome sign, and freshly baked goods.
Budlong is a product of New England, born and raised in Windsor, Conn. She received her undergraduate degree in education at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., and her master’s in early childhood education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. She attended the University of Vermont for her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in school librarianship.
Kevin Redline, president of the Bremen Library Board of Directors, said the board liked that despite Budlong’s substantial experience working with kids in schools and libraries she wanted to broaden her scope of work with a more diversified age group.
Budlong lives in Union, and while she does not have any family in Maine, she has lots of friends. She recalled coming up to Maine “with a gaggle of friends after college — a carload of us girls. They decided to all go to Portland because it was so cool there,” she said. She took a trip on a lark to Kingsfield and fell in love with the town.
That’s where she started her teaching career in 1989. She was hired as a teacher’s assistant on the spot and spent two years there before deciding to return to school to pursue her master’s degrees. A part of her has wanted to return to Maine ever since.
Budlong said she enjoyed the challenges and the benefits of working remotely during COVID-19. “I got everyone through the pandemic using the Boston Public Library,” she said. “It’s an absolute treasure trove of unused resources.”
Redline said that Budlong’s abilities with website design and development will help the library’s site to stay updated without relying on outside tech assistance.
Budlong will continue to work remotely for Kingsley Montessori around her 20-hour position with the Bremen Library.
Budlong said she feels a real push to get programming back up and running for the community and the kids.
Her first artist’s reception is coming up on Friday, July 9 featuring Sharon Marchi’s paintings of Bremen and Havana. She is looking into the possibility of a book signing with Jefferson novelist Kay Tobler Liss. She said she wants to run one to two programs a month so there’s always a reason to come to the library.
Budlong is thinking about promoting more book groups — there is already one that meets at the library regularly — or perhaps a writers group. She said she would like to talk to people in the community who have interesting things to share that can be brought into the library as programming.
The library has a “Free Books for Kids” program, now in its second year. Parents in Bremen, including summer residents, can call the library and request a book which the library will provide when available. Budlong said she has only had one response from a teen reader.
“It’s hard to reach teens these days, they’re so enmeshed in social media, and their social worlds,” she said.
If there’s something she can do to make teens feel more comfortable or welcome, Budlong would like to encourage them to see the library as a welcoming space rather than just a resource.
Budlong said she knows there are families with kids relocating to the town and she looks forward to using her experience and knowledge to create dynamic programming for them. “My experience in children’s libraries will certainly come into play,” she said.
She’s facing new challenges too. “It’s been a switch to the adult world,” she said. “I dove headlong into library loans on my first day,” she said. She’s busy making lists of requested titles and authors. She has to decide if it’s worth buying some of the books or if it makes more sense to use interlibrary loans.
Budlong placed her first monthly book order based loosely on past orders. She just received about 15 books and said she spent five hours processing the titles and making them available to patrons. She said that every one of them has already been checked out.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “This little library gives me energy when people are that active. It fuels me to keep looking, reading reviews, finding out what people want.”
“I will read anything,” she said, although she has a preference for nonfiction and a strong interest in the American West and books on Native Americans.
The next book on her nightstand is “Heartbeat of Wounded Knee,” a follow-up to “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”
She is not averse to “rereading Willa Cather for the millionth time” or books on the young adult rewards lists, or any of the new books featured in the reviews she reads.
Budlong loves kids picture books and that section is her next project at the library. She said she just got in Caldecott award-winner “Little Island” by Margaret Wise Brown, and discovered a copy of “Hitty, Her First Hundred Years” by Rachel Field on the library shelves.
She said she read her mother’s copy of “Hitty” until it was in tatters. The book has a Maine connection, too, so she placed it on a prominent shelf along with a book on antique dolls as her “librarian’s favorite.”
“I feel strongly someone needs to keep the old, never known classics alive,” she said, although she recognizes that “there are also plenty of great new upper elementary and young adult offerings.” She wants the library to reflect “a sweet spot of the old and new.”
Budlong quickly noted that Bremen is full of huge readers with wide interests. “They’re making me feel like maybe I’d better up my game,” she said.
Redline said Budlong has a good grasp on the role of a librarian in a rural public library.
“Two weeks in, we couldn’t be more happy,” Redline said.