Man leaves ministry to head Lambertville library

Decision was based on lifelong love of books and learning

By: Mae Rhine
   LAMBERTVILLE — Being part of a community is what made an ordained minister make an easy transition to becoming the new director of the Lambertville Public Library.
   Shawn Armington of Princeton said he realized last year he was "not deeply happy" as a minister.
   "The role didn’t correspond to my personality that way," he said, adding he found it hard to pinpoint why he made his decision to change careers.
   It was time, he said, because of "personal and faith factors."
   But he finds similarities in both jobs because he deals with the community, reaching out to help or just talk to the residents.
   Mr. Armington grew up in Belfast, Maine, a town he said reminds him a lot of Lambertville.
   "It’s a small coastal town, somewhat like Lambertville," he said. "It used to be industrial. Now it’s more upscale. Lambertville reminds me a lot of Belfast."
   His mother was a school teacher and his father a chemist. Mr. Armington did undergraduate studies as an English major at Cornell. Then he went to Yale Divinity School for a master’s degree in religion. He continued his studies at General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, achieving another master’s degree, this time in divinity.
   He received a doctorate at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1994. He had a small Episcopalian parish in Maple Shade, N.J., and also taught Old Testament, as an adjunct professor, for four years at Rutgers.
   Then it was time for that career change.
   "Leaving the ministry, I’m not sure I can explain it," Mr. Armington said. "It was not the right fit for me."
   The decision to become a librarian was based on a lifelong love of books and learning, he said. So he went back to school yet again and will finish a master’s degree in library sciences this fall.
   "There is a certain continuity," he said of the two careers. "I learned the skills through the ministry of working with people, how to achieve goals with people in organization, a way of leading."
   The ministry, he said, is similar to business in that there are corporate lines of authority. As a librarian, he must work alongside and with people to get things done.
   Mr. Armington also has spent the last few months preparing housings (bindings) for rare books at Rutgers. And he took over as director of the Lambertville library in April.
   He works part time, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays as well as every other Saturday, alternating that day with new children’s librarian, Jennifer Sirak. The library is open Monday through Thursday from 1 to 9 p.m., Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
   One of the first things Mr. Armington wants to tackle is replacing the old card catalog system with a computer-based online network.
   "This library is not fully automated; it’s very unusual," Mr. Armington said.
   He hopes to replace the card catalog within a year. Previous director, Helen Kosowski, had started exploring that, he said.
   But the technology is only a small part of the library, he said.
   "The library is very much a part of the community," Mr. Armington said. "There’s a growing Hispanic community," thus the library’s decision to start a Spanish Cub. Mr. Armington also plans to learn the language himself.
   "I see the library as one of the places a community meets," he said. "It’s sort of neutral ground."
   He thinks the ABC Gallery in the upstairs of the library is "a neat thing; very unique and very appropriate to Lambertville." The gallery is for struggling artists, he explained, who have no other forum for their work, may never have had their own exhibit and are not able to "break through" to become one of the established artists in the area.
   Besides the Hispanic and artist populations, there are the "old-time locals" as well as blue-collar workers, professionals and other divisions of the community.
   "It’s not just kids," in the library, he said. "I try to talk with everyone. I get dizzy sometimes. I talk with kids, artists, look for new books; it’s all over. This is as good a cross section as it gets."
   And while a library is a type of educational institution, "it is much less didactic, much less structured," Mr. Armington said.
   "I talk about the community or just life; a lot of times I don’t talk about books," he said. "The library is about people as much as it is about books."