CAPE ELIZABETH – Jay Scherma has seen many changes in libraries over the years, but he feels that some things never change.

“The primary function of a library is to gather and share. I think libraries are kind of like campfires: They are a place people gather to share stories,” said the director of Cape Elizabeth’s Thomas Memorial Library. “I don’t see that social need going away.”

Scherma, known by colleagues for his leadership in the changing world of public libraries, was presented the Maine Outstanding Librarian award for 2012 during the annual Maine Library Association conference last weekend in Orono.

He has been an advocate for the use of technology in libraries and helped ensure that Maine’s inter-library loan program effectively serves libraries and patrons.

Scherma, who has been director of Thomas Memorial Library for nearly 17 years, said this is an exciting time, as materials become digitized and libraries work together to increase access to books for patrons across the state.

“I think there’s a lot of life left in libraries,” he said. “Like many institutions of the 20th century, they’re evolving. I think libraries will continue to endure.”

Scherma graduated from Bates College expecting to begin a career teaching English and coaching drama after school, but quickly found that many other people were looking for the same job. After six years as an ordained minister, he decided to look for a new career that incorporated the same elements of communication, support and giving back to society.

His decision to leave the ministry led Scherma to a master of library science degree from Simmons College in Boston and a series of jobs at libraries in Massachusetts, starting about 30 years ago. He made the move north 17 years ago, after he and his family fell in love with Maine during vacations in Ocean Park.

“Every summer we’d come up and say, ‘God, I wish I could live here,’” he said.

The issues that Scherma would have to deal with as director of Cape Elizabeth’s library were evident as soon as he walked through the front door.

“When I first came for my interview, I walked into an empty room,” he said of the lobby, which now contains the circulation desk.

Being the director of Thomas Memorial Library isn’t always easy, Scherma said. Over the years, he has faced a host of problems, from leaking roofs to structural issues that required bookshelves to be moved.

The building’s issues have long been a topic of discussion in town. Residents will vote in November on plans to renovate and expand the library — a project that Scherma supports. Town officials plan a “community conversation” about the future of the library at 7 p.m. May 31 at Town Hall.

Town Manager Michael McGovern was among the five people who nominated Scherma for the award. He said it was clear during the ceremony that Scherma is popular with his colleagues, as many got “quite choked up” as they talked about the library director.

“He’s done a terrific job locally in recruiting a good staff and trying to make a building work that is clearly failing,” McGovern said. “He’s done a great job here.”

Andi Jackson-Darling, assistant director of Falmouth Memorial Library and president of the Maine Library Association, met Scherma in 2005 when he was a mentor for Maine librarians at a New England Library Association leadership symposium. She said she continues to consider him a mentor and admires his professionalism and dedication.

“He has high expectations and you want to meet them for him,” she said. “(This award) is way overdue. He’s done so much for Maine libraries.”

Scherma is quick to point out that he is surrounded by an “incredible team of professionals” who make going to work “invigorating.” He said one of the best parts of his job is interacting with many people.

“People open up to us and it’s a real privilege to have people accept you and share their lives with you,” he said. “That’s something I cherish about my job.”

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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