Sunday, June 26, 2011

Interesting Lives Enriched by Books

Bonnie Wyler is the Outreach/Literacy Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Since 1947, the Outreach Department of the Morrill Memorial Library has been delivering library materials to residents of Norwood who can’t come to the library because of special needs, illness or disability. One of the greatest pleasures of being an Outreach Librarian has been getting to know the many people who use the program and finding out about their lives. I’d like to tell you about two of our patrons whose experiences not only show us how important reading can be in an older person’s life, but whose lives themselves give us an interesting glimpse into the past.

Edna is 101. You may have read about her life in the May 27th Norwood Transcript article describing the Norwood Senior Center’s birthday party for those over 90. Born in England, Edna came to the U.S. in 1911 at 22 months of age. Her family is Jewish and she told me that her father who was from Edinburgh was bar mitzvahed in a kilt!

Edna recalls that times were very different then. In her entire childhood, she had only one doll. She grew up in the South End and remembers the ice man bringing blocks of ice to her house. Edna wasn’t a reader growing up, largely because there was no neighborhood library and books were expensive. As she got older, she would walk to the Boston Public Library whenever she needed to look up information for school. After graduating from high school, Edna did office work before marrying her husband Phillip. Shortly after she learned to drive the family Ford, she recalls coming to an intersection at the same time as a policeman on horseback, who reprimanded her by saying, “Don’t you know, horses have the right of way!”

Edna and her husband raised their daughter in West Roxbury before moving to Norwood in 1978. Reading was not a priority during the busy years of childrearing, or even later on when Edna was active in many clubs and organizations. During this period of her life, Edna and her husband traveled in the United States, though never abroad. Edna says that she became a reader by necessity in her 70’s because she needed something to occupy her mind as she got older. Now she loves to read books set in foreign countries – China, the Middle East, Afganistan – places she never traveled to, but can now visit via the books she reads. Even at 101, Edna still lives independently, cooks for herself, and maintains a lively interest in what’s going on in the world.

Another Outreach patron Grace, aged 82, has always loved to read. The youngest of nine siblings, Grace’s first language was French, which her parents spoke at home. But by the time she started school, she spoke both French and English. Grace attended Catholic schools in Salem where she grew up, and remembers that the nuns did not approve of her selection of books. She liked Dickens and Dumas, while they wanted her to read books about the saints or other religious topics. Her favorite book when she was young was The Count of Monte Cristo. Money was scarce because it was the depression and her mother told her not to spend money on books because she could always get them at the neighborhood library. She bought the book she wanted anyway. When she got in trouble with her mother, Grace said, “I know you will eventually stop being angry, and I will still have the book.” One of 19 students in her graduating class, Grace worked for Sylvania after high school and met her future husband at a dance. He was a science teacher in Westwood. They got married, moved to Norwood and had two daughters. There wasn’t much time to read when the children were growing up, although Grace did a lot of sewing, knitting and crocheting.

Grace has very definite tastes in books. She doesn’t like romance, war stories, science fiction or westerns. She loves mysteries, crime novels and “who dunnits.” . Grace reads so extensively in her favorite genres that she has devised a special system. She makes a very small squiggle on the back inside cover of every paperback she borrows from the library so she can remember which ones she has read. Grace says that books can take you everywhere and make you forget you’re alone. You can visit Paris, Istanbul, or anywhere in the world. Grace tells me she’d “go crazy with boredom” without books to read. Maybe the nuns from her early schooling had some influence after all because now her favorite reading is the Bible and books about faith, and she starts every day with devotional reading.

Edna and Grace are representative of the many people served by the Outreach Department, each of whom has a unique and interesting life story. They show us that it doesn’t matter when in your life you become a reader – it could be when you were a child or much later in life – and that books can play an essential role in keeping life stimulating and connecting you to the larger world. You probably know people like Edna and Grace who love to read and would enjoy having an Outreach volunteer bring them books and stop for a visit each month. We hope you will help us find these people so that they can enjoy the pleasures of reading. You can reach the Outreach Department by calling
781-769-0200, ext. 228.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Keeper of Thousands of Tales

Samantha Sherburne is a Simmons College intern at the Memorial Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

When I was a child, visiting my local library was a weekly event. I would carefully select which books and movies to bring home and spend the next week with. The library was a place filled with stories and I envied the Children’s Librarian, whom I viewed as the keeper of these thousands of tales.

As a teenager in high school the school library became a home base for me. I would find any excuse possible to spend time in the library - working on term papers, studying for tests, or reading. The librarian knew me well, and we would spend time discussing the latest book I was reading or he would suggest something for me to jump into next.

Despite these wonderful and positive experiences with libraries and the librarians who made such big impacts on my life, I didn’t take the steps towards becoming a librarian myself until I graduated from college. Now I am a student in the GSLIS program at Simmons College and will begin my final semester this September. My hope is to become a Children’s Librarian, working with young children and teenagers to help foster a love for reading and give them a safe and welcoming place to spend time in.

While I grew up frequenting my town’s public library, then spending time in the school library, and staying up late studying for finals in my college library, I still had no experience with working in a library. During my second semester at Simmons, in the summer of last year, I was enrolled in one of the core courses of my program, Principles of Management. A key assignment in this course was to contact the director of a library of your choice and then conduct an interview to learn more about the job of a library director and the various styles of management we were learning about in class.

The director I contacted was Charlotte Canelli, the director of the Morrill Memorial Library. The library in Norwood has been a favorite building of mine for the past few years, since I moved to the area. I was in awe the first time I recognized the last names of famed authors and poets engraved in the stone on the outside of the building. The inside of the library is just as lovely and the material collections have something for every type of reader. For these reasons, when I had to think of a library director to talk with, I immediately thought “Norwood!”

From my interview with Director Canelli I learned all about how the library runs and the amount of work that goes into providing as many materials as possible for as many people as possible. Following the interview, I was offered the opportunity to be an unpaid intern at the library. At the time, Simmons had yet to begin an official internship course, and I knew the experience I could gain by learning from the librarians in Norwood would be invaluable to me. For the past ten months I have been coming to the library every week to spend time in the many different departments that operate in the library.

Now I am enrolled in the internship course Simmons initiated this Spring, and will complete 120 hours at the library from May through July, working to further grow my understanding of the many responsibilities the librarians have here.

When I began interning last September I was amazed to learn how many departments exist in the Morrill Memorial Library, many that I hadn’t heard about before. For instance, I hadn’t known about Outreach Services, a department that brings books and other materials to patrons who are unable to come to the library on their own. I also hadn’t known about the Literacy Department, which pairs up volunteer tutors with adult learners who wish to improve their English skills or who are working towards their GED or Citizenship tests. I’ve learned the amount of care that goes into selecting books and songs for children’s storytimes, and the energy needed to carry them out. It seems that every day that I am at the library I am learning something new about a department, a specific job, or the building itself.

The librarians and staff members have been welcoming, knowledgeable, and open to share everything they know, experiences they have had, and answering any questions I have about how things are done in the library. Even before my internship, when I would come to the library as a patron, doing research for class or browsing the stacks for a good book to read, I felt very welcome, and the Reference librarians were always ready and willing to help me locate the materials I needed to complete school projects. If you have not yet been to the Morrill Memorial Library, or it has been a while since your last visit, I would recommend dropping in and enjoying the building, its resources, and the people who make it great.

Being a part of the library community in Norwood and working as an intern here has reminded me of those wonderful memories of a childhood spent in libraries and immersed in books, and has confirmed that I have chosen the absolute best career in the world to pursue.

Visit the library's website,, or visit the library in person at 33 Walpole Street, Norwood, MA

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Celebrating the Gift of a Library

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin. For photographs and excerpts from articles written about the building of the Morrill Memorial Library, visit the Digital Archive of the History of the Morrill Memorial Library.

When George Morrill lost his daughter to disease, he decided to build a monument in her memory. Sara Bond Morrill was a young woman of only 23 years. She was on a pleasure trip to Florida when she contracted typhoid and died on March 7, 1895. She was educated and refined. In George Morrill’s own words, she “was an intelligent and sensible woman.”

George Morrill did not merely plan to memorialize Sarah with a carved statue, a corner park or a stately boulevard. He built an entire institution in her name.

This esteemed building was and is the Morrill Memorial Library, a “grand and lofty place”. It was built near the junction of two main thoroughfares in Norwood - Washington and Walpole Streets. In 1895 the library sat directly in front of what was then Norwood’s high school and overlooked “one of the busiest and most prosperous manufacturing towns in New England.” To the left, its grounds adjoined the then Congregational Church.

“Located on a commanding eminence … it seems as if a better fit for a library building could hardly have been selected.” A broad sweeping lawn and curved walk led to the library steps from Walpole Street. (When first built, the library was half its current size. The front half of the building, its current entrance and side wings which bring it down to Walpole Street, was added in 1965.)

When George Morrill, a wealthy ink manufacturer in Norwood, decided to erect the library in Norwood in his daughter’s memory, I assume that he traveled to Augusta, Maine where architect Joseph Neal designed a library in that state’s capital. The library in Augusta was also built in the memory of someone with dreams of “study and mental improvement.” When local attorney and reader Llewellyn Lithgow died in 1881 he left a bequest of $20,000 to the city of Augusta. The trustees of the then Literary and Library Association in Augusta then began raising more funds. They hired architect Neal and the Lithgow Public Library was opened in 1895.

Unlike Augusta, however, the trustees and members of the Norwood Public Library did not have to raise any necessary funds. George Morrill himself simply hired Neal to design a library nearly identical to the beautiful Lithgow Library. He purchased land at Walpole and Beacon streets and construction began on that property. In January 1898 the lovely building was finished (at a cost of approximatelyl $75,000) and the library’s shelves were filled with approximately 10,000 books. It was opened officially on a cold and snowy day. In the atrocious weather, 200 people gathered as the library was dedicated as the Morrill Memorial Library in Sara Bond Morrill’s name.

State Representative Francis O. Winslow read from his speech that day. “Today we receive a library edifice, the gift of our honored townsman, George H. Morrill. Yesterday [the library] was his. Today it is ours. It is ours to possess as a sacred trust, for the use and benefit of those now living in the town and their children. It is given, without reservation and without limitation, except that it shall be ever devoted to literary and educational purposes. It is a gift of love to the people.”

Norwood’s public library was said, at the time (by the state librarian), to be “the finest of its size in the country.” It was erected of sturdy Norridgewock granite from Maine and the exterior was elaborately carved and etched with the names of ancient and contemporary authors and lovers of learning. Its interior was woodworked in mahogany. Exquisite transom lights in the large and spacious reading and book rooms were crafted of stained and leaded glass. Two elaborate bronze lamps graced the outside entrance and four beautiful fireplaces were placed on the center walls of four rooms. Morrill himself said “There was nothing shoddy about [my daughter, Sara] and there will be nothing shoddy about this building.”

For over half a century this fine building served its community well. Built to house 13,000 volumes it became far too small for its growing community. In 1928, a decade when the Norwood Town Hall and the Norwood High School were built, the three-story Plimpton wing was erected at the rear of the library. This was also a gift of the Morrill family, this time from another of George’s daughters, Alice Morrill Plimpton.

In the 1940s and 1950s attempts were made to enlarge the crowded and cramped building. Plans were successful in the next decade and in 1965 the building was doubled in size. (When the additions were built in 1928 and 1965, granite was once again secured from the same quarries in Maine.)

By the end of the 20th Century, the collection of over 100,000 books was once again too cramped, the library’s furnishings outdated and staffing stations inefficient and crowded. The trustees and supporters of the library planned a renovation that not only reallocated space but that restored the building to its original glory. (In 1965 and 2001 this was accomplished with state, town and foundation funding.) In June of 2001 the building was reopened and rededicated.

On June 26, 2011 the library will hold a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the 2001 renovation. The library will be closed for normal library services on that Sunday afternoon from 2-4 pm but will instead be open for visitors to join together for music and refreshment. Entertainment and crafts will be available in the children’s room and librarians will lead tours throughout the building’s three floors.

Much like those years of 1898, 1925, 1965 and 2001, visitors are welcome to the library to celebrate the Morrill Memorial Library, the original gift of an institution and building in which George Morrill would still take great pride.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Second Chance

Norma Logan is the Literacy Coordinator at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin on June 10.

It was just a normal day in the Literacy Volunteer Office at the Morrill Memorial Library. There were potential literacy students to meet and assess, phone and e-mail messages to retrieve and respond to, reports to write, materials to choose for literacy tutors and rooms to reserve for tutor/ student pairs.

A tutor stopped by and asked me if I had read “Life is So Good” by Richard Glaubman.

I had not, nor had I heard of it. She said, “Oh, you have to read it! It’s a true story about a 101 year old man who first learned to read when he was 98 yrs old. It’s just like what you tell us in the tutor training about functionally illiterate adults.” So, I made a mental note to find the book before I left for the day.

Minutes later, I answered the phone, and it was from a manager of a company who was training employees on safety procedures in the workplace. He had one employee who could not read the written materials that he had distributed. Clearly, he did not know where to begin to help him, and he was astonished that the man could not read. I told him that the phone call was a good beginning. “Is he a native English speaker?” I asked. “Yes, American!” he said in astonishment. I assured him that having worked in the Literacy Department at the Norwood Library for over 20 years it was not the first time I had heard about an adult struggling to read. He said, “Well, it’s a first for me.” He sounded like a take-charge manager who was used to having all the answers and yet this one left him dumbfounded. I complimented him on trying to help his employee and went on to discuss ways we could help him.

That night I started reading “Life is So Good”. It is as much about the optimistic philosophy of a black man, the grandson of slaves, who grew up on a farm in Texas as it is the story about a man who was illiterate his whole life. Literacy to George Dawson was

Knowing how to break- in a horse, run a farm and live off the land. He envied other children who did go to school, but he never felt the need to learn how to read until he was very much older. However, society does change over the course of years, and the definition of what it means to be a literate person changes, also.

Dawson said upon enrolling in a literacy program at 98 yrs. “Every morning I get up, and I wonder what I might learn that day. You just never know.” It turned out that he was not only helping himself, but encouraging and motivating other adult literacy students who were much younger than he.

Weeks later, I retrieved a phone message that started with a sigh and the words, “I don’t know where to start”. I listened as a young mother tearfully explained that she was recently divorced and never graduated from high school. She had always been able to find work without a high school diploma before she was married, but now needed to study for her GED test so she could get a job to support her and her child.

To be functionally illiterate is not to be able to read or write well enough to deal with the everyday requirements of life in one’s own society. The functionally illiterate wear many faces and have the invisible disability of being illiterate until the need arrives to get a good job, retain a job, go to school, help children with homework, and so on.

The same can be said for English as a Second Language adult learners who seek us out to improve conversational English skills in order to gain employment, become American citizens or just survive in this foreign culture.

The Literacy Program at the Morrill Memorial Library has provided free trained literacy volunteer tutors to help adults who need to speak, read and write English better to achieve their goals for over 20 years. If you know of someone who could benefit from this service or would like to be a volunteer tutor, please call the Literacy Program at 781-769-4599.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Memories of Summer Reading

Kelly Unsworth is Head of Children's Services at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin on June 3 written in collaboration with librarians at the Norwood elementary schools: Mr. Reuland, Mrs. Roberts, Mrs. Lodge, Mrs. Miller and Mrs. McMullan.

Most of us can remember many things about our idyllic summer vacations while we were growing up. Swimming in a lake, riding bikes throughout the town, walking to the ice cream shop for cones or sundaes. But one thing that we have in common is that we all enjoyed reading over the summer.

For some of us, it was the only time we had to read the books we wanted to read instead of the books we were assigned.

“What I remember most is sitting on my front porch reading mystery stories. I did not live on a very busy street so there wasn’t much to distract me and I was often able to finish two or three books a week,” said Mrs. Miller, librarian at the Prescott and Willett schools. “There were always books in my house and the public library was a short bike ride away. I was fortunate that my mother loved to read just as much as I did, so trips to the library were frequent.”

“In the summer, my mother had to lock my brother and I outside so that we wouldn’t spend all day laying inside reading,” said Mr. Reuland, librarian at the Callahan and Willett schools. “Little did she know that all we did was hide under the branches of the pine tree on the side of the house and read under there. I loved spending all summer reading fantasy novels. I would read anything with a dragon on the cover.”

“The public library in my home town was about a half mile from my home and close to a small market,” said Mrs. Roberts, library teacher at the Balch and Willett schools. “My sisters and I would walk there several times a week and take as many books out as we could carry, after stopping for a treat at the market. I felt proud that I could walk there by myself when I wanted as well. I would often choose chapter books that my older sisters had read and recommended to me. Two of my favorites were ‘The Little Princess’ and ‘The Secret Garden’ by Francis Burnett.”

“We did not have a library in my elementary schools. Therefore, the public library was always of great importance to my family,” said Mrs. McMullen, library teacher at the Cleveland school. “We also moved several times when I was young - always during the summer. Registering for a library card was the first item on our family agenda after the big move! Luckily, the public library was always within walking distance of our homes. I would walk to the library, several times a week, to pick out the books I would devour at home. I can still remember the summer I read through every fairy tale book the library owned!”

“I was a serious bookworm when I was in elementary school (and I still am!)” says Mrs. Lodge, library teacher at the Oldham and Willett schools. “I always looked forward to the reading challenge we were given over summer vacation - to write down all the books you read over the summer. I would take out stacks of books from the public library and just devour them. It was rewarding to see my big, long list of books at the end of the summer!”

My summer days were long and hot, with little to do but eating Kool-Aid popsicles. Luckily, my father was a children’s librarian, so we always had plenty of books. We also had a small branch library that was in an old house. The children’s room was on the second floor, and you had to climb up a set of small narrow steps that were so steep they felt like a ladder. The librarian looked very stern, but there were lots of nooks to read in. We would always stop at the playground, which was next to the library, and then buy either a dill pickle or a pretzel stick for 5 cents at the deli for the walk home.

Take a trip to the library this summer and create your own memories. Sign up for the Summer Reading program at the Morrill Memorial library and start reading. The summer reading booklet, a list of suggested new titles, comes out the last week of school. It will also be posted online at the Elementary School Library website, and on the public library website at: These are books that are not assigned, that there will be no tests on, and that you may actually like. There are fantasy, fairy tales, biographies, picture books, and possibly even a title with a dragon on the cover.

Sign up begins June 13th in the Children’s section of the library. For more information, call the library or talk to one of the elementary school library teachers.