Monday, February 1, 2016

History of Russell Library, Part III

Part 1 of this history covered the period from the establishment of Russell Library in 1876 to the resignation of its second Director, Willis K. Stetson, in 1887.  Part II covered the Library from 1887 to 1926, under the leadership of Laura F. Philbrook and Edna H. Wilder. Part III covers the administrations of Nathaly E. Newton and William Van Beynum, extending over 50 years from 1926 to 1978.

Nathaly E. Newton, 1926 – 1963

Nathaly Newton at the Reference Desk, 1926
Nathaly Newton holds the distinction of being Russell Library’s longest-serving Director.  In her 38 years as head of Russell Library, Director Newton recreated Library spaces and collaborated with other local organizations to meet community needs.  In 1930 the City helped fund the addition of the Hubbard wing, and in the 1940s the Middletown Garden Club undertook the care of the grounds.  As is usual in hard economic times, the Depression led to a great increase in the popularity of Russell Library.  The Library reached out to the community in a variety of ways.  Russell lent books to the five CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camps around the City, and during the 1936 and 1938 floods the Library provided books to people who were driven out of their homes and temporarily housed in the Armory. 

The Library continued to struggle to meet its obligations, and explored a new ways to fund operations.  One experiment was a rental service for new fiction, started in the early 1940s.  By 1948, shortly before the program was discontinued, most new fiction was only available for a rental fee—which was not popular with the public or the Russell Library Company Board of Trustees.  Despite this short-lived program, Russell’s collections grew from approximately 30,000 in 1930 to 80,000 in the early 1960s. The Library began offering phonograph records and films in the 1940s, with a screen and projector available to view films.  This led to regular film showings that continue to this day. In 1957 a project began to microfilm Middletown’s newspapers, and as a result Russell acquired its first microfilm reader. 

In 1963 Nathaly Newton retired, and William Van Beynum became Librarian.

William Van Beynum, 1963 - 1978

William Van Beynum (center)
Shortly after William Van Beynum became Librarian, Russell purchased its first Docustat photocopier.  In 1967 the Board approved funds for a bookmobile, so that the South Farms and Westfield branches could be closed while the Library continued to provide services to the entire City.  The Bookmobile began operation in 1969, stocked with books from the recently-closed South Farms branch.
In 1972 the new Children’s Library was created in the former First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Meriden, next door to the Library. In 1975 Russell Library celebrated its 100th anniversary, and as part of the celebration the building was designated an historic landmark by the Greater Middletown Preservation Trust.
The staff was changing as well.  In 1971 the Board proposed to the staff a 4-day, 40-hour work week, which the staff rejected.  In 1976 non-administrative staff began discussing the creation of a bargaining unit, and in March of 1977 the Board voted to recognize the Russell Library Staff Association as the bargaining unit for Library employees. 
In 1978, after a period of ill-health, William Van Beynum retired, and Arlene Bielefield was named Director.

--End of Part III--

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