25-year Shelburne free library director retiring

SHELBURNE — Since 1989, Libby Burnham has been running the quaint, cottage-like Shelburne Free Public Library; but at month’s end she’ll retire to take on other pursuits.

A reception in her honor is planned for her last day of work, March 29, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the library.

Twenty-five years of service is something that Elizabeth “Libby” Burnham has in common with Mercy Anderson, Shelburne Center’s first librarian in the 1890s. The library has a photograph or a bronze name plate for every librarian who has served there, including Burnham.

The tiny one-room stone library was built in 1898, and is made of boulders gathered from nearby farms, according to the town’s history book. In the early 1950s, a second room was added for a children’s library and a small bathroom was added in the 1970s.

The building hasn’t changed much over the last 116 years, but the library director’s job certainly has.

“The biggest change for me was when we became automated in about 1997,” says Burnham. “We were one of the smallest libraries to join CWMARS (Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing).”

“I hated to type catalog cards,” she added. “I was never so happy than when we got automated.”

This change meant that the library’s books were available to readers from other CWMARS libraries, through an inter-library loan; and that Shelburne’s roughly 700 patrons could order materials from other libraries. “Resource-sharing has just been a big boon for libraries,” she said.

The wooden case that now displays DVDs used to hold VHS cassettes when Burnham began — and there weren’t any audio books back then.

Burnham grew up in Connecticut and graduated from college with a master’s degree in library science. She moved to Shelburne when she married. Burnham said she was the Academy at Charlemont’s first librarian. She also worked as an assistant librarian at the Mohawk Trail Regional School. She had served as a library trustee for three years at the Shelburne Free Public Library when the librarian position became available.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for me, since I live a half-mile away. It’s the perfect part-time job. It’s been a real privilege.”

Burnham said the town has always strongly supported the library. She said a new library director, Betsy Antaya, has been hired and is to start her new position on April 1.

During her years at the library, Burnham said she tried to build up the collection of good fiction. She also ran story hour programs, back when more families with young children were coming in. She said her own children spent many hours at the library, when they were growing up.

“I ran a basic library,” she said. “I tried to figure out what people wanted, and do my best to match up people with books and material. We also have a good DVD collection.”

When asked why she is leaving, Burnham said she was “just ready to let somebody else have a shot at being librarian.”

Burnham’s husband recently retired, and the couple have a small granddaughter in Virginia they would like to spend more time with. Burnham said she will stay in Shelburne after retiring — and she is looking forward to bringing her granddaughter into the library.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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