WESTERLY — When Daniel Snydacker reached the 30-year mark as an executive director, he knew he was ready to retire. After 22 years as executive director of the Newport Historical Society, followed by eight at the Pequot Library in Southport, Conn., he was eager to start a new chapter in his life — researching and writing historical books. However, one year into his work as an author, he came across an opportunity to reopen that past chapter, becoming the interim director of the Westerly Public Library and Wilcox Park.
“This has allowed me to have a final epilogue in my career as an executive director,” he said. “It’s given me a change to give back, to share what I learned about running nonprofits with a great library and park.”
Snydacker was chosen by the library’s board of directors following the retirement of Kathryn Taylor in September. He will continue to serve as the interim director until the full-time position is filled, estimated to be the end of December.
While still deep into his book research, Snydacker is commuting from his Newport home for a 20-hour-per-week job, working to keep the Westerly landmark running smoothly. He also has been involved in the process of choosing a new director.
But for Snydacker, ensuring the status quo is not enough. He said he hopes to help the library by focusing not only on what is in place, but on what can be done to improve it. “I want to make sure the sails of the organization stay filled with the winds of aspiration,” he said. “Nonprofits are all about aspiration, and it’s not just for the library, but for the community as a whole.”
To do this, Snydacker has held regular meetings with the staff, setting goals to increase fundraising and development efforts. He has helped to revive the technology committee and wants to bring back events and programming that may have received less attention during the library’s construction and renovation.
Snydacker is particularly passionate about the relationship between libraries and technology. “Technology doesn’t replace traditional library services,” he said. “There will always be a place for books. Books do things that digital media cannot, and vice versa.”
He said he also wants to help the library become “green,” and mentioned use of solar power as an example. “The library can be a powerful place to model good sustainability practices,” he said.
Snydacker said his work has been “deliberately ambitious,” but he admitted that the hardest part of his job would be letting go in such a short time. And though his work with the library officially ends at the end of the year, and he would “probably not” apply for the position, Snydacker said he plans to continue his involvement as needed. “I still want to be available to keep those winds of aspiration going,” he said.
Snydacker has applied for a fellowship with the National Endowment for the Humanities in conjunction with one of the books he is working on: the history behind a famous set of photographs taken of Newport buildings designed in the 1870s by Charles McKim, a leading American architect. If he receives the grant, he would not be allowed to have another full-time job.
His other book in progress explores the life and work of the architect Robert Robertson, who designed many iconic buildings, including Hammersmith Farm in Newport. Snydacker has a publisher and must complete the writing portion of that book by June.
Snydacker received a bachelor’s degree in history from Oberlin College in Ohio, where he also studied in the music conservatory. He has a master’s degree and Ph.D. from John Hopkins University in American history and economics. He has also served as an adjunct teacher at Fairfield University for 10 years, teaching classes including “The Art and History of the Book.”
While growing up, Snydacker said he always assumed he would become a full-time faculty member at a university, but was drawn to the library scene for its similar “academic bent.”
Snydacker described himself as an avid Red Sox fan and book lover. Currently he is reading “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini. He also enjoys listening to books on tape while driving. “I took the job in part because of the 40-minute commute to Westerly, because I knew I could listen to a lot of books,” he joked.
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