Charlotte Canelli is the library director at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Read Charlotte's column in the April 24, 2014 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
At times I wonder if you are fatigued of my writing. Lately, my columns seem to include too many stories about disaster and loss. I’ve tried to tie those discussions to books in the library that might benefit one of our readers who might be intrigued by the topic or those who are journeying through experiences much like I have. I’ve tried to share stories that might strike a chord, touch a place in your own heart, or encourage you to read what I've shared with you.
This week I lost a very special colleague who was a Massachusetts librarian for 25 years. Her death came as a shock. How could someone younger than me and one so inspirational to others leave so quickly and unexpectedly?
I must admit, I don’t know many personal details of Jane Dutton’s life before I met her. I do know she was raised in California just as I was. I know that she received her master’s in library science from Simmons College in Boston and her first years as a professional librarian were spent in the children’s room, much like mine were. Nine years after becoming the children’s librarian in Holden, Massachusetts, she was promoted to library director. For another 12 years she was much loved in Holden where her enthusiasm for the community and her love for reading became legendary across Massachusetts.
When I relocated back to Massachusetts to take on the library directorship in a central Massachusetts town, a group of local, caring librarians took me under their charge and shepherded me through my first years as an administrator. One of those amazing librarians was Jane Dutton. She and they provided guidance while I tackled bureaucratic and confusing reports. They encouraged me while I battled difficult library scenarios. They were undeniably the finest resource for insider information in Massachusetts. They were also the definitive proof that librarians are the most valuable friends on the planet.
Jane Dutton was a voracious reader. Over the years, I relied on Jane’s Picks – her monthly book reviews and recommendations. In breakfast meetings, with her usual wicked wit, Jane would recall the latest episode of the television series that she was watching and she would leave us in stitches.
Jane watched it all, she read it all, and she shared it all.
Jane retired from the Gale Free Library in Holden, MA and ended her official library career earlier than expected in 2011. On a wing and a prayer (and an enormous belief in the great things that would come) she moved to The Netherlands to live with her newfound partner (and future wife), Natasha. From the town of Utrecht, twenty miles from Amsterdam, Jane quickly began writing blog posts that described her unique experience of a retired-American librarian in The Netherlands. I wasn’t alone in loving to read Jane’s blog. Two years after writing her first post, Jane announced that she was receiving 30,000 web hits from all over the world.
True to Jane’s form, each of Jane’s posts was headed by a movie title. The posts usually finished with some kind of recommended reading or watching. Some posts were poignant and most were hilarious.
One of my favorites was “The Breakfast Club” written on April 15, 2011. She explained the Dutch love of Nutella and sprinkles (as large as ‘ants on steroids’) - a touch of sweetness simply spread on bread for breakfast. She described omelets eaten for any meal, any time. She ended that "Breakfast Club" post with Jane’s Boekentips (translated from the Dutch to English as “book tips): Breakfast with Scot by Michael Downing, Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo and Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson.
In another early blog post named Up, Jane described the years she spent as the tallest girl in school in California. As an adult, she stood 5’8” and felt as if she towered above most people. In Holland, however, the Dutch (the tallest people in world) often made Jane “feel like a Smurf in the land of Avatar.” Her recommended reading? The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken and The Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker.
In February, Jane described how she had just received a jury summons from Massachusetts, three years after she had departed the Commonwealth for Holland. “I guess word of my exit had not reached the courthouse,” she wrote. She then explained that there are no juries in The Netherlands. The judge decides the case. Her post ended with a recommendation to watch 12 Angry Men.
Jane wrote her last post from The Netherlands just three years after her first. On April 15, Jane’s wife Natasha posted for her; Jane could no longer type or write. It was a dictated description of her last journey with The Mary Tyler Moore Show - hilarious, American 70s television that was helping her to ease the pain of liver cancer. As usual, Jane was remarkable. She was funny and honest, and she shared her love of all 168 episodes.
When Jane Dutton lost her not-quite-three-month battle on April 17, I sat in disbelief. A group of her friends, myself included, had just gathered the week before for a photograph meant to humor and heal her. While the photo touched her deeply when it reached her online through the magic of Facebook, how could she have lost her battle so quickly? My heart broke for her wonderful new family and her host of friends around the world. How would we never read another post, another book or movie recommendation, another bit of wicked wit from a woman who spent her life sharing her wisdom with others?
I will always be inspired by Jane Dutton, the quintessential librarian. If I could have, I would have told her: “Rest in peace, Jane, knowing that I will reread your blog posts and “boekentips” with the same smile - but this time with a tear in my eye.”