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New director makes Charlemont library shine

Recorder/Diane Broncaccio

Recorder/Diane Broncaccio

CHARLEMONT — The smell of soap and wood polish emanates these days from the Tyler Memorial Library as the new librarian, Andrea Bernard, takes stock of the library collection.

“We recently found some of the oldest catalogs, and we’re trying to see if we have some books from the very early collections,” Bernard explained, as volunteers working with her carefully handle some cloth-bound books with gilt lettering.

“Charlemont has its 250th anniversary coming up, and it would be fun to have some of these historical items available,” said Bernard.

If any are still around, the oldest books in the collection could go back as far as 1796 — when the library began.

One of the little treasures that seems to delight Bernard is a framed, handwritten note that reads: “Sir — This may inform you that the Social Library of Charlemont began on Jan. 19, 1796.”

“We don’t know where that scrap of paper came from,” said Bernard. Another find — in flawless, cursive caligraphy — is the handwritten “Library Constitution” from 1878, which led to the establishment of the “Charlemont Free Town Library.”

According to the town’s Bicentennial History, by Allen Healy, the library was established in a brick residential home. It contained no fiction and was “largely of books concerning travel and history.”

In 1878, a meeting was held at Avery’s, setting up a membership fee of $1 per year for each member. With 40 members, the Charlemont Free Town Library opened with 44 volumes, which had grown to 434 volumes by 1890.

Today, the Tyler Memorial Library has at least 5,000 items in its collection, says Bernard, who hopes to “find out what we have and what we can preserve.”

“It’s been here a very long time, and it’s really a credit to the town that the library has really been maintained for such a long time.”

Bernard had been a former child development specialist for 25 years before going back to college to learn library science. She graduated with honors from the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in 2010. In addition to working 15 hours per week at the Tyler Memorial Library, Bernard is also a research assistant with the Harvard Open Access Project. The Harvard project seeks to provide open access to everyone for scholarly information that is often not accessible to the public because of a pay-wall, said Bernard.

This is Bernard’s first job as director of a public library, and she says she has lots of hopes and dreams for the library, which is shared by Hawley and Charlemont residents.

“I love being here,” she says. “I’m very excited about being here and being part of this community. We’ve begun re-organizing the library. We have two new computers. We now have wi-fi throughout the library and we’re hoping, in the near future, to have fiber-optic access here,” she said.

Through the state’s “middle-mile” broadband initiative, Charlemont’s Goodnow (Town) Hall is to be equipped to serve as a “point of interconnection” for future fiber-optic cable networks for the hilltowns.

“Some people are coming in here with their laptops, and others are coming in to use our computers,” said Bernard. “I’m hoping, in the next two or three years, we’ll be able to automate our collection and become part of the CWMARS (Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing) regional network.”

Other ideas Bernard is considering include a homework program for children, reading groups for children, story-telling, a chess club and programming for adults.

“What I’m really interested in is figuring out ways to get children involved in the library and in learning, so that they’re doing it through lots of media,” said Bernard. “We may read books together and do an activity related to the book, and do some online participation — so that kids really have the opportunity to use resources both physically and virtually.”

“Information literacy and technology literacy are both really important now,” she added.

Bernars said she’s planning a Halloween weekend event, with storytelling for all ages on Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. and a family movie matinee on Oct. 27, also at 2 p.m.

The library is open Wednesday, 1 to 5 p.m., Thursday 3 to 8 p.m., and Saturday mornings from 10 to noon.

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