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 covered the administrations of Nathaly E. Newton and William Van Beynum, extending over 50 years from 1926 to 1978.
Part IV covers the period from the appointment of Arlene Bielefield through the end of Stuart Porter’s administration in 1997.
Arlene Bielefield, May—June 1978
After a prolonged, controversial search process in the spring of 1978, the Board of Trustees offered the position of Library Director to Arlene Bielefield, then Assistant Librarian. She initially accepted, but soon resigned to become the head of the Connecticut State Library’s Division of Reader Services.
In June 1978, Russell’s Film Librarian Linda Rusczek agreed to serve as interim Director while the Board conducted a new search. Under Rusczek’s able leadership, the Library continued to provide excellent services to the Middletown community. Trumbull Huntington, then President of the Library’s Board of Trustees, praised her work highly and expressed gratitude for her willingness to lead the Library through the transition.
Stuart Porter, 1979—1997
In Porter’s first long-range plan, he proposed the implementation of a ‘Computerized Circulation Control’ system. By 1983, the Library had partnered with several other libraries to establish LION (Libraries On-Line), and began converting from a card catalog to an online catalog system. By 1995 the catalog was fully computerized. The Library’s first public computers were installed in 1984, and a generous patron donated an Apple 2E to the Children’s Department the next year. By 1996, the Library offered a variety of electronic resources via CD-ROM, including a magazine index and dictionary.
In 1980 the Friends of the Russell Library was re-established after being on hiatus for a number of years. Their support and assistance proved invaluable in gaining public and municipal support for a major building renovation. The four-year, $3.5 million Library building renovation was completed in 1985. Two of the original stained glass windows were reinstalled in the new main peak and in the Children’s area. The combined buildings created a beautiful inner courtyard, and outside gardens were lovingly maintained by the Middletown Garden Club.
The Bookmobile had quickly become a very popular service after the service was established in 1969. However, the cost of maintaining the vehicle was prohibitively high, and in 1983 the Bookmobile was discontinued.
The Library grew with Middletown, and also faced some of the same challenges. Two fires were set in the Children’s Library in the summer of 1980, costing $20,000 to repair. Periodic problems with vandalism, phone and computer abuse, and other criminal activity led in 1990 to the hiring of two part-time security officers. However, Russell grew in popularity as well, with over 275,000 patron visits to the Library in Porter’s final year as Director.
In late 1996 Stuart Porter announced his retirement effective April 1, 1997.
--End of Part IV--