When Mary Anne Cressman started working at the Elmira library in 1968, there was a sign on the wall that said “Silence” in big letters.
Taking that sign down was one of many changes Cressman has presided over in her 40 years as librarian and library supervisor. The library is a friendlier place now; the collection has expanded to include DVDs and downloadable audio books, the building has expanded with an addition, and there is wireless internet for laptop users. But the fundamental purpose of the library hasn’t changed, she noted.
Cressman grew up reading Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins and Walter Farley’s horse books. When she was eight, her family moved to a farm outside London. There was no local library branch, but the bookmobile came around once a month.
She moved to Elmira when her first husband got a job at Elmira District Secondary School. When her son was four, she started looking for a part time job and found the library position listed in the newspaper. They were looking for someone with a B.A. and a love of reading, and Cressman fit the bill.
One of the first things she did was convince the library board to hire a student to work part-time in the children’s department. The children’s section had moved downstairs to the lower floor, but in the evenings there was no one working there and children who came in with their families weren’t allowed downstairs.
By the 1970s, it was clear the library had outgrown its space. When approval for an addition came through, library staff had seven days to pack up and move 25,000 items. Five thousand were moved onto a bookmobile that served as a temporary library; the rest were put in storage. When the addition and renovation were complete, a group of volunteers formed a book brigade, passing items hand to hand back into the library.
When Woolwich Township decided to install an elevator in the library last year, staff again had a week to pack up and move. This time they moved a selection of adult books downstairs and operated out of the children’s section.
The construction was supposed to be relatively quick, but the company ran into unexpected problems and then administrators at Waterloo Region decided to make the washroom wheelchair accessible. In the end, the library was closed as long as it had been to build the addition.
Like all librarians, Cressman has seen materials go missing and had some returned from unusual places. One book arrived in the mail from Australia, from a patron who’d gone on sabbatical and accidentally taken it with him.
“I remember getting the book back with all kinds of stamps on it and a little note of apology.”
Along with having more time to read, Cressman and her husband plan to do some more travelling. They’ve been to Egypt, Europe and Russia, and they’d like to visit Newfoundland, as well as visit their grandkids in Whitehorse and Connecticut.
Sheryl Tilley will be coming from St. Clements and Wellesley branches to take on Cressman’s role of library supervisor.
There will be a retirement open house for Cressman at the Elmira library on Feb. 14, from 1-4 p.m.