It’s no coincidence that Matt DeLaney started as executive director of the Millinocket Memorial Library at almost the exact same time then-President Barack Obama added the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument to the National Park system in August 2016. As an ardent trail runner and mountain biker, the Katahdin region was a natural fit for DeLaney.
But as someone who also believes that libraries can offer much more than just books and technology to a community, coming to Millinocket offered DeLaney, 39, an opportunity to put that belief to the test. Only a year before he started, the town actually voted to eliminate most funding for the library, before reversing course and hiring DeLaney.
DeLaney leaves the library this week after a five-year tenure on the job that has seen the library pioneer new services and undertake a major renovation. Next week, he will start his new position as director of the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor, replacing outgoing director Ruth Eveland.
“I think of libraries in today’s world as more of a movement than an institution,” said DeLaney, who moved to Millinocket from Syracuse, New York, where he was administrative director of that city’s library system. “It’s a place that can bring people together and where they can envision the community they want to see and realize.”
The library has seen a dramatic transformation under DeLaney’s leadership, from a $1.24 million renovation to build a new facility, to the establishment of several new library programs capitalizing on the region’s outdoor economy, such as the Katahdin Gear Library, which loans out bikes and other equipment.
Most notably, in March 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic began, DeLaney and other stakeholders in the community launched the library-based Mobilize Katahdin, a group that originally was supposed to solve the program of transportation access for the region. As the pandemic started, however, it quickly morphed into a network of volunteers to help underprivileged people in the area get access to essentials including food, medical care and social services.
DeLaney, who in 2018 was named the Maine Library Association’s Outstanding Librarian of the Year, said that he thinks he gets too much credit for the good things the Millinocket library has accomplished over the past five years.
“It’s a vision I’ve helped to create, sure, but the volunteers here have put in countless hours of work,” he said. “I think we’ve put in place a culture that’s not afraid to think big and be open and welcoming, and to try new things. There’s still a lot to accomplish, but there’s an amazing team here to carry it forward.”
Though he said he will miss Millinocket dearly, DeLaney said he’s excited in his new position to get to know the many corners of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, with his wife, Emilie, and their one-year-old son, Will. In 2019, DeLaney ran or walked all 210 miles of trails in Baxter State Park, so he’s looking forward to hitting the trails on MDI soon.
“It’s a bittersweet moment, for sure,” DeLaney said. “But the Millinocket community has the energy and commitment to keep the momentum going. There’s still so much wild and exciting work that’s happening, whether I’m here or not.”