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Lackawanna Library System leader retires

Mary Garm served as Executive Director of the Lackawanna County Library System, overseeing seven member libraries, one branch, and one mobile library.
Aimee Dilger
Mary Garm served as executive director of the Lackawanna County Library System, overseeing seven member libraries, one branch, and one mobile library.

In the 20 years that Mary Garm served as executive director of the Lackawanna County Library System, she paved the way for future leadership. As she retires from 40-year her career as a librarian, the impact of her work is seen inside and outside of the county.

“You can direct people's interests and passions and attentions, and you learn so much yourself," Garm said, explaining her love for her work.

Garm took over as executive director of the library system in 2003. In addition to managing seven member libraries, one branch, and a mobile library, Garm is an advocate statewide. She was appointed to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Library Development in 2011, and will continue until her terms ends in 2026.

As president of the Pennsylvania Library System, she advocated for training. She helped to establish the Pennsylvania Library Association's Academy for Leadership Studies (PALS) in 2009.

“We saw that there were a lot of veteran library directors who were retiring, and a lot of very young librarians who were coming into the profession, and there weren't a lot of people in the middle,” she said. “We felt strongly that we needed to give newer librarians an opportunity to develop personal and professional leadership skills.”

When asked how to train a good leader, Garm says students must first learn about themselves.

“How do you bring your own personality, your own skills, and your own experiences into your leadership role? And then the next thing you need to learn is how do you work with other people, because not everybody has the same traits and experiences that you have," she said.

Her successor, Sandy Longo, was one of the first graduates of the program.

“Often people see something in you that you maybe don't see,” Longo said. “Then when you go for that training, then you get the why. And you get the how, and you develop an understanding. And then you walk away feeling empowered that I can impact libraries, librarianship, and my community in a positive way.”

Longo fell in love with librarianship when she worked at the Carbondale Public Library.

“You don't come into libraries without being a lifelong learner. And I am passionately that,” she said. “I knew this was it for me. Because you're always challenged daily to learn new technology… And then passing that learned information on to the public, showing them how to use a smartphone or their new e-reader or their Kindle.”

Longo was executive director of the Abington Community Library for seven years, which is part of the Lackawanna County Library System. She started working there in 2007 as a teen librarian and assistant director.

Libraries Today

The library has long been a place to gain access to reading materials. A building, centrally located, with an abundance of books, DVDs, and magazines about every topic you can imagine.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced libraries to close their doors, library services didn’t stop. Garm says she is proud of the library staff for the ways they adapted to bring programming to the public through live streams.

“We brought storytime into the homes of children and their parents when they couldn't come to the library,” Longo said.

“Libraries are generally early adopters of everything new,” Garm said.

Librarians often show people how to use emerging technology. Garm says downloadable eBooks and audiobooks are among the most popular media for library users.

“I love the fact that if I've run out of something to read at 10 o'clock on a Friday night, I don't have to wait 'til tomorrow to go to the library, I can find something on my phone,” Garm said.

For some, the idea of the library has become more of a resource than a place. On the other hand, the library serves as a meeting place and a social outlet for so many feeling isolated in the digital age.

The libraries offer free programs including book clubs, movie screenings, and game nights. Other events provide resources for mental health, technology support, and crafty folks.

"The thing that really impresses me about libraries today is that they have become places where people like to come together, and in a way that I hadn't seen," Garm said. "I've seen things in the last five to ten years that I haven't seen throughout my whole career."

Haley joined the WVIA news team in 2023 as a reporter and host. She grew up in Scranton and studied Broadcast Journalism at Marywood University. Haley has experience reporting in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. She enjoys reporting on Pennsylvania history and culture, and video storytelling.

You can email Haley at haleyobrien@wvia.org