In the two-plus centuries years since the Southold Library was established, the board of directors has never had a woman president.
That is, until last Wednesday.
Maggie Merrill, a board member since 2005, was elected last week to a one-year term as president after former president David Fujita was required by the board’s term limit policy to step down.
Her election ends the male-only streak dating back to the library’s founding in 1797.
Ms. Merrill didn’t learn of the history-making aspect of her election until after the vote.
“I said, ‘Wow! I can’t wait to go home and tell my kids,’” she said. “I have very big shoes to fill from the outgoing president. We’re grateful he stayed on. He knew the project so well.”
Ms. Merrill is a former television commercial producer who has also worked in the print publishing industry and public radio in both New York and Hawaii. She and her husband J.C. Merrill moved to Southold 12 years ago to raise a family.
Now the mother of two girls, ages 9 and 11, Ms. Merrill credits the library’s programs with helping turn her daughters into voracious readers. She served on both the library’s long-range planning and fund-raising committees, leading up to the library’s failed expansion bid in October.
“She has just been an integral part of the workings of the board. She’s great,” said library director Caroline MacArthur. “She was a huge part of the expansion plan. David did a lot of hard work for the library. I’m sure Maggie will continue in that same way.”
Last year Mr. Fujita completed two five-year terms on the board. He was asked to stay on for an extra year as the board prepared to present the $7.25 million expansion to the public. The library board’s bylaws prohibit members from serving more than two consecutive terms unless extenuating circumstances require them to stay on longer.
“He had obviously been so deeply involved in the expansion that it would have been problematic for him to leave,” said Ms. MacArthur.
Ms. Merrill’s family had a summer house in Southold when she was a child. She believed it would be an ideal place to raise children while working at home making jewelry from beach glass and building driftwood sculptures.
She’s now devoting some of her time to increasing public awareness of the diverse ways people use library services and the need for more community space. There’s been a significant increase in the number of teenagers taking advantage of library services, Ms Merrill said.
“When I was a little kid in Southold, teenagers were hanging out on the stone wall in front of the library,” she said. “Now they’re inside, which is really cool. But there’s no space for them all and I don’t want them back out on the wall. I want there to be a place for them to go.”
Libraries have become community gathering places, she added.
“There’s not the stern librarian shushing you constantly,” Ms. Merrill said. “There are a lot more programs that are very social.”
Although the initial expansion project failed, the trustees continue to search for ways to add additional floor space.
“We are going to move forward,” she said. “The need for space did not go away. The bond vote was a good lesson. We see it not as a defeat but almost as a challenge and an opportunity to do better.”
The library is halfway through a three-year capital plan to raise the $1.25 million. Ms. Merrill said they have raised $995,000 to date, including two recent bequests from former Town Trustee Bill Albertson and former Southold history teacher Bruce Staiger.
Last year’s expansion plan called for the library to bond $6 million and cover the remaining costs through fund-raising.