Presidential proclamation designates every March as Women’s History Month, setting aside the month to honor the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. As part of this year’s celebration, GOOD Morning Wilton will run a month-long series highlighting the significant contributions by women of Wilton. While a month isn’t enough time to highlight every woman worthy of acknowledgment, we hope to make this an annual series and revisit our outstanding community of women every March.
To kick off the series, we invite you to meet Wilton resident Elaine Tai-Lauria, Executive Director of Wilton Library.
In May, 2012, Elaine Tai-Lauria was selected from almost 40 qualified candidates to succeed Kathy Leeds as Wilton Library’s executive director, a position she hadn’t even considered.
“I was a trustee at the time Kathy was preparing to retire and several fellow trustees suggested I think about it,” Tai-Lauria recalls. “But the person who really was the driving force behind my decision to apply was my son. He said, ‘You have always said to me, give me one reason why you shouldn’t do this. So now I’m going to ask that of you.’ Since I was unable to give him an answer, I decided to go for it.”
Tai-Lauria’s official start date was July 1 that year. Just a few months later, she was truly put to the test as leader of a significant pillar of the community, when Superstorm Sandy hit.
While it was certainly an incredibly challenging time, Tai-Lauria says that it was also a proving point.
“It was a proud moment for the Library to respond to our patrons’ basic needs as well as their social and intellectual interests. It reaffirmed our role and mission as a gathering place for our community where we connect lives,” she says.
It’s that sense of purpose on behalf of the community that has guided Tai-Lauria in the five-plus years she has served as executive director. When asked what she loves most about her job, Tai-Lauria proudly–and deservedly so–shares that it’s her ability to make a difference, to serve as “a catalyst for developing new ideas and working with the library team to bring these initiatives to fruition.”
Accomplishments that will Live On
In considering the many noteworthy accomplishments during her tenure to date, she has successfully driven the meaningful transformation of the Wilton Library in a number of ways. The Innovation Station, which was unveiled in 2014, is one such example. Designed to be a creative area for patrons who wish to learn new skills, exchange ideas, collaborate, and create items such as robotic devices, prototypes, and even quilts, the Innovation Station offers the community access to the latest in digital and computerized technologies and machines and allows them to learn new skills.
“Our Innovation Station is a makerspace,” explains Tai-Lauria, “which is formally defined as a ‘collaborative work space for making, learning, exploring, and sharing.’ I’m so proud that we have been able to bring the community a new kind of educational experience that not only exposes them to cutting-edge technologies, but also increases their aptitude in those critical 21st century skills required in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).”
The space also nurtures the creative genius of Wilton’s Robotics team, which last year won second place at the Connecticut State Championship, followed by a 38th place in their first regional championship.
Tai-Lauria is equally proud of the stunning, 3-D, jungle-themed mural around the doorway at the children’s section entrance, which was finalized and unveiled to the community in October of 2015. Specifically designed to spark imagination and inspiration in everyone, Tai-Lauria says the colorful and inviting entrance is in keeping with the library’s mission, which is to be a gateway to discovery.
“The entrance inspires a sense of curiosity, of exploration to a very beautiful and interesting world beyond that gateway,” explains Tai-Lauria. It opens up limitless opportunities for discovery for both young and old alike.”
This openness to opportunity as well as self-discovery has guided Tai-Lauria’s career. In reflecting on her career, she is proud of her ability to successfully navigate various sectors of the library profession and utilize methodologies and skills across disciplines. Since leaving graduate school with a concentration in special and academic librarianship, Tai-Lauria has worked as a hospital librarian in upstate New York; a medical school librarian at University of Southern California; and a business school librarian at both Western CT State University and Stanford University (where she also worked at the medical library). She also tested the waters in corporate with positions at Texaco and within the pharmaceutical industry before returning to her roots as the Head of Lending Services at Greenwich Library. After seven years in Greenwich, Tai-Lauria became the executive director 0f Wilton Library.
“During the early years of my professional experience, I simply had to look at what opportunities were available where my family and I were living,” Tai-Lauria explains. “Was it intimidating and scary to apply to some of these institutions? Yes it was! And sometimes, after landing those positions, I was one of very few women in the room, at the table. And, I was certainly aware of that. But, I certainly grew so much from each of those professional challenges.”
It’s therefore a priority for Tai-Lauria that the Wilton Library is a place of inspiration and opportunity for the young women in our community. Susan Lauricella, head of teen services, has been a fantastic partner in this effort, and has helped drive the launch of a number of technology-based programs, including Girls Who Code. This club, which is part of the national, non-profit organization with the same name, was formed “to inspire, educate and equip girls in grades 6-12 with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.”
Although the Library’s current strat plan goes through 2019, Tai-Lauria says they have already started thinking about the new strat plan. “We have to keep our eye on what’s out there, what is new that we can and should bring to the community. Virtual reality is a big one. We are committed to staying abreast of developing technology and making it available to our patrons to use or observe.”
She adds, “Of course we will need to engage with the community to determine what they want us to do, what they want to see us offer, and we will then respond accordingly in order to maintain our mission as Wilton’s intellectual and cultural center to inform, enrich, connect, and inspire our community.”