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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

RIP, Ernie DiMattia: a Loss to the Library World

Libraries lost an indefatigable leader, advocate, and innovator this past summer. Ernest A. DiMattia, Jr., died from cancer in June 2014, at age 74. Maybe you've never heard of him before, but he did an awful lot of good for the profession of librarianship, and for library marketing in particular.

And just last week, he was recognized posthumously by his Board of Trustees. The Ferguson Library in Stamford, Conn., had its main building renamed to honor its former president. It is now known as the Ernest A. DiMattia, Jr. Building of The Ferguson Library.

The newly christened
Ernest A. DiMattia, Jr. Building
 of The Ferguson Library
Mr. DiMattia did a lot to push libraries forward, and I'd like to say a few words in his honor.

I first met Ernie in the 1990s, when he asked me to go up to New York City to guest lecture at an evening course he was teaching at the Pratt Institute. He was one of very few people actually teaching marketing to LIS students, and so of course he knew about my newsletter, Marketing Library Services. Since I kept a close eye on this topic, Ernie wanted me to talk to his class about the trends I was seeing in the field.

I'd never lectured for a grad-school class before, and had never met Mr. DiMattia. I almost turned down the extra work, but (luckily) I decided to go. I found Ernie at the appointed Italian restaurant near campus, and he treated me to dinner. As we talked about marketing, we connected right away. After dinner I did the lecture (Yes, it was face-to-face back then!) and then took the train back home to New Jersey.

Ernie was gracious enough to read a preview copy of
my book and to write a promo review, part of which
appeared on the back cover (below). I presented him with
 a copy at my first signing at ALA in 2009 (above).
After that first meeting, Ernie and I shared a great mutual respect. I thought he was amazing because he was running a library, teaching for various library schools (Pratt, Simmons, and Rutgers), being active in ALA, and doing all sorts of things in his own community of Stamford. He thought I was great because I was writing and publishing to educate library workers about marketing, advocacy, public relations, and promotion.

We didn't get to see each other very often over the next 10 years or so, but it was always a treat when we did. When we got together at ALA conferences, it was a bonus if his lovely wife Susan (a great librarian in her own right) was there too. In fact, they gave me the incredible honor of speaking with both of them at a marketing workshop they planned for ALA’s "MBA Series for Librarians" at the 2011 Annual Conference (covered in Sept./Oct. 2011 MLS, and on this blog). I'll never forget that. 
After the MBA marketing class:
Susan DiMattia, Kathy Dempsey, Ernie DiMattia

I'm so glad we were able to feature Ernie in the Interviews With Marketing Masters column in the Nov./Dec. 2012 issue of MLS, to showcase his work.

Alas, now this dedicated librarian and educator is gone. But I was thrilled to discover that Ernie's Board had chosen to recognize him by renaming a historic, majestic building after him. They held a grand ceremony on Dec. 7. In a nod to how well-loved he was around town, the event was covered by the media (video here), and the reception was supported by a local bank. Politicians, citizens, friends, and colleagues attended alongside Ernie's family.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (L)
spoke at the ceremony. He's seen here
with Michael J. Cacace, one of the
library's Citizen Advisors.
Here are a few highlights of what The Ferguson Library achieved since he became president in 1976: 
  • Had one of the first public library websites in Connecticut
  • Created a Friends group
  • Renovated the turn-of-the-century building
  • Opened a Starbucks in the library
  • Got businesses to sponsor Sunday hours
  • Started "The Purple Bus" that brings schoolchildren to the library 
Ernie's years of passionate library service are detailed in this press release from his library. And here's a lovely newspaper article from June

This shining star understood the value of community partnerships and marketing. He served on the Board of the Connecticut State Library, chaired an Ebook Task Force for the Connecticut Library Assn., and served the Rotary, United Way, & other groups.

I'll close with his own words from the Interviews With Marketing Masters column. When asked, "What guidance would you give a fledgling marketer?" Ernie responded:

"My best advice for marketers is to be very passionate about what they do, actively engage others in the overall marketing effort, and never stop learning from the many great marketers within and outside of our field. There is no shortage of opportunities to market a library. Ingenuity and endurance is needed to get past both the perceived and real barriers that always seem to stand in the path to achievement."

Looking back, I feel like Ernie was describing himself: passion, engagement, continuous learning, ingenuity, endurance, achievement... What a wonderful role model for all of us. RIP, sir. It was an honor to have known you.

Some of the crowd at the rededication ceremony.
Special thanks to Linda Avellar, Director of Development and Communication
at The Ferguson Library, for sharing the event photos.

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