Library paraeducator Annie Figliola ready to contra dance into retirement

Annie Figliola, a library paraeducator better known as Ms. Fig, is ready to retire after 11 happy years working at ARHS.

Ms. Fig grew up in the university town of New Paltz, New York. She attended college at  SUNY New Paltz and Brockport. “I majored in the arts,” she said. In fact, she graduated with a dual degree in fine arts and dance.

Before working as a librarian at ARHS, Ms. Fig had her fair share of interesting jobs.

“I worked at a Quaker resort  built at the turn of the century called the Mohonk Mountain House, on the garden crew,” she said.  “I also designed flowers for the hotel.”

“When I did the flowers I had to wear a dress and I had a beautiful basket to collect flowers in,” she said. “There were vast cutting gardens, and thousands of acres of plant material that I could pick from.”

Later, her background in art helped her to get a job working at an art gallery.  

“In Seattle I managed a frame shop and art gallery. I had the great opportunity to give the cartoonist Gary Larson his first art show,” she said.

Teaching English in Italy was another job that Ms. Fig enjoyed, as she got to embrace her Italian roots. Her husband actually teaches Italian at UMass now.

Ms. Fig came to Amherst from Seattle when her husband was working on his PhD at UMass.  She then chose to stay in the area to raise her two kids, both of whom went to Wildwood Elementary School and   graduated from ARHS in 2006 and 2009. Prior to working at the school library, she worked in the district as a substitute art teacher.

Ms. Fig and fellow library para Kenny Ramos have been working closely together for six years. They do anything and everything to help students in the library.

“I help students with research. I also work as curriculum support for teachers, doing cataloging and print support for different class unit,” she said. She’s also been known to hand out a Band-aid to someone who needs one.

Mr. Ramos said their job changes every day. They work with  technology and printers and reorganizing book carts, too. But  things “can suddenly break, books can go missing, and throughout the day there are massive rushes for students who want to use the library,” he said. “It keeps us on our toes all the time.”

No matter, what they enjoy their camaraderie. “We have a great time working together. We work well together,” he said. “We have each other’s back.”

According to Head Librarian Ms. Stocker, Ms. Fig is very dedicated to making the library a “helpful resource for students.”

“Annie updates patron records, helps students check out materials and find books they love, brings art supplies to classrooms, collaborates with teachers to create extensive book lists for research projects, spends hours on the phone with our cataloguing platform begging them not to delete those book lists in an upgrade and so, so, so much more,” she said.

Ms. Fig said she has loved working at the ARHS library.  

“I’ve loved being in an educational institution and working in a stimulating, diverse community where everyone believes deeply in the importance of education and critical thinking,” she said.

Of course there have been challenges, as with any job. “We have so many students in the library for many various reasons,” she said.

“Trying to keep the components in balance and to also communicate the rules of the library” can be a challenge. She also works to teach the appropriate use of cell phones.  

Ms. Fig says that she will never forget the interactions that she has had with people at ARHS.

She believes that the high school is a community within a larger community and the interactions she has each day are “all important.”

She will miss being around teenagers each day. “I love the energy of teens and their thinking,” she said. “Our society, American society, tends to segregate the ages, which I think is unfortunate.”

Ms. Fig has lots of plans for when she retires. For someone who works in a library each day, she said she never has enough time to read.

During her time working with books, she has compiled “a large reading list” and is looking forward to finally starting to read books on her list.

She also said “[I] would like to retrain my brain. I know how to access information which this job provides, but I would be interested in going back to working with my hands.”

She said in the past, she has enjoyed living outside of the country for long periods of time as opposed to brief period of travel. “I’ve always appreciated [that kind of] travel, to get to know culture in depth,” she said.

There are no shortage of activities to do in retirement, and she already participates in quite a few.  

“I’m a contradancer. I sing in a world music chorus and we have rehearsals once a month outside of Boston,” she said.

Ms. Fig has many beliefs that she has carried with her in her joyful career.

She thinks that “every single individual in the world has something to teach us.”

“I think that’s something that I’ve gone through life feeling,” she added. “I think that we can go through life learning something from every person that we interact with.”

Preserving the natural world is another thing that is important to her.

Given her warm, loving personality, she will be missed by many.

“She was great to work with. I learned so much from her,” said Mr. Ramos. “When I first started working here six years ago I didn’t know a single thing about libraries. She was the best resource a person could wish for.”

“The library is the library because of Annie,” said Ms. Stocker. “Her warmth, her care for others, her belief in every student and her willingness to go above and beyond for them” all stand out.

Additionally, “her generosity with teachers, and an endlessly curious mind embody everything libraries stand for,” added Ms. Stocker.