Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Farewell, Marybelle

One of my favorite librarians passed away over the weekend.  Marybelle was 90 and lived an amazing life as a writer, a back-to-the-lander, a food coop founder, a community organizer, and, since 1984, the librarian of the public library in Alburgh, Vermont, a summer community on Lake Champlain.  I will never forget the day we met.  She had called the day before to ask if I or someone from the Dept. of Libraries could come up and give her a hand.  She felt the community needed a public library, and theirs had been closed for at least ten years. 

I sat in the sun on the steps of the Town Clerk's office/library building watching lazy foot and car traffic until she arrived.  I was surprised that the energetic voice on the phone came from a lady whose rheumatoid arthritis made me hurt just looking at her hands.  But that never stopped Marybelle for a moment.  Together, we got the key from the Town Clerk and entered the library room for the first time.  As she reminded me over the years afterwards, I said, "it was like entering the catacombs."  Every surface was covered in dust, and the books, piled willy nilly, were representative of the 1940's and '50's.  I can't remember how many times I returned that summer to help her sort through and organize them (writing broad Dewey numbers inside in pencil so they could be shelved).

Marybelle attended every workshop we offered and recruited a bunch of dedicated volunteers to help her run the library.  Pretty soon, the place was teeming with customers, especially kids looking for something to do in the summer.  Every Friday night was family movie night, with popcorn and fun.  Ideas just flowed, and pretty soon other librarians in the region were adopting them, too.  Grant money, a Friends group, publicity, computers, and more came their way.   As use increased, so did the hours and budget.  The library's space kept oozing beyond its one room until pretty soon it had taken over the whole building.

Because I helped her in the early days, Marybelle called me her mentor, but I always felt she was a role model for me and all librarians.  She took a number of local women under her wing and encouraged them to get jobs, educate themselves, and broaden their views of the world.  "No" was not in her vocabulary, and she was always open to new ideas and to her customers' needs.   I have thought about her a great deal since I retired because the library and the town were surely the beneficiaries of her retirement.  Alburgh is lucky that she chose to retire there.  Her love for the library and presence will always be felt here in the library and throughout the community. (from the library's website)

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