Bristol librarian retires after 30 years


AFTER 30 YEARS as director of Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol, Nancy Wilson retired on June 30. She is most proud, she said, of the renovations and expansions that took place on her watch. In her retirement, she plans to ... catch up on some reading. Independent photo/Christopher Ross

WHEN NANCY WILSON took over at Bristol’s Lawrence Memorial Library in 1990, about half the job involved updating and maintaining the book collection. Over the next 30 years, as technology changed the way people do things, Wilson’s focus shifted more and more to the community — and she liked it that way. Independent photo/Christopher Ross

BRISTOL — About 33 minutes into the Independent’s delightful conversation with Nancy Wilson at the Lawrence Memorial Library last month, she was called away.

“Can I interrupt you for one second,” said Coco Moseley, who would soon replace Wilson as librarian. “I need to access that brain of yours.”

Wilson, who was about to retire after 30 years of leading the library, switched into high gear. Walking through the fiction section like a bibliographic Sherlock Holmes, she consulted her vast store of knowledge — of the patron’s tastes and reading history, of the library’s collection and even the format history of its card catalog — to put together an emergency selection of books.

“There,” she finally said, and she sounded rather satisfied.

This is what Nancy Wilson does. And it’s what many people in the town of Bristol are going to miss about her.

STORIED CAREER

Wilson took over at Lawrence Memorial in 1990.

“I came down for the interview and fell in love with the library,” she recalled. “I walked in and it felt like home. The building is gorgeous.”

She took the job because she loves books, “but it didn’t take me long to realize that it wasn’t about the books — it was really about the people and the community —and that has only increased through the years.”

The job has changed a lot over the last three decades, she said.

“I used to focus 50% of my attention on collection development and what I should get and what format it should be in and how many copies. That’s probably 20% of the job now. Technology (and helping people with it) has taken over a lot of that time.”

And, thanks to renovation projects that Wilson spearheaded — the addition of an ADA accessible entrance and expansion into the basement — people are spending more time in the building.

“That’s what I’m the most proud of,” she said. “I am super happy about all the things that have happened to this building in the last 30 years, and that I did a lot of fundraising, wrote a lot of grants and solicited a lot of funds to do that.”

Now, “we’ve become less a place where people fly in and take three or four books and fly out,” she said. “We’ve doubled the space, become accessible and started encouraging community use of the building.”

Thirty years at the helm of the public library has given Wilson a unique perch from which to observe the gradual transformation of her community.

“I think a lot of that transformation has come because of the attractiveness of the community,” she said. “Bristol is an extremely attractive community. I think people who have lived here all their lives don’t always realize that. I think we have a lot of opportunity to feel a sense of community here.”

And of course reading habits have changed over the years.

“New books used to go out 10 or 15 times,” she said. “Now they might go out just five or six times. I feel like people aren’t reading as much. It does worry me a little bit.”

And with the internet at their fingertips, people rarely consult how-to books anymore.

At the moment, “everybody wants Black Lives Matter books,” she said. “But everything’s back ordered. Things can change fast and it’s sometimes hard to keep up.”

While Wilson spoke, Moseley fielded another phone call, during which a patron said to her, “Nancy’s retiring! How will you know what I like to read?”

And that, Moseley said, “is irreplaceable. It’s going to be a big project for me.”

FAMILY HISTORY

Books and libraries feature prominently in Wilson’s family history, which she described in a recent Front Porch Forum post.

“In 1920 my great-grandmother, Carrie Ladd, opened the front room of her tiny home in Georgia, Vermont, to the community as a public library. For the next 35 years she was recognized by everyone as Grandma Ladd, the town librarian.”

Wilson’s uncle served for nearly 30 as a librarian at two different Vermont libraries, and Wilson’s mother worked at school and public libraries as part of her 20-plus-year career.

“I guess you could say libraries were my destiny,” Wilson wrote.

GRATITUDE

At this year’s Town Meeting, Lawrence Memorial trustee Caroline Engvall paid tribute to Wilson’s impressive career.

“Over her 30 years, Nancy has consistently been at the forefront of changes, always keeping our library relevant and cutting edge,” Engvall said. “She has the ability to inspire others to feel as excited and passionate as she does about libraries — go ahead and ask her. We on the board and in the community wish Nancy a well-deserved retirement to pursue other interests.”

Wilson, waving appreciatively from the Holley Hall balcony, then received a standing ovation.

It should come as no surprise that Wilson plans to do more reading in her retirement.

“I’ve been keeping a list of authors I’ve missed throughout my life,” she said, “like P.G. Wodehouse and other classic writers. I’m really a mystery and thriller fan, so I want to go back and read some of the classics (of those genres).”

If her fans and former colleagues get their way, there will also be a “Nancy shelf” at the library, where Wilson can keep her community apprised of the latest and greatest reads.

Not only will Wilson keep supplying book recommendations, but she will also keep advocating for continued support of the library.

“If I had one dream come true, it would be that everyone understand — even if they don’t use the library or want to come inside the library — how important it is for people like (the patron on the phone); how important it is for children at story time; how important it is, if not to them personally, then to someone in their family or their circle of friends, who really loves and relies on (us). I wish everyone would have a dream tonight of being in the library and having a positive experience and wake up thinking, ‘Wow! Libraries are fantastic!’”

Given how beloved Wilson has become in the Bristol community over the past 30 years, it would not be surprising if many people did just that.

Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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