By Kim Siebert MacPhail
When Theo, a fourth grader, learned about Sharon MacDonald’s impending retirement from the Bedford Free Public Library, he laid his head down on his arms and moaned, “ Oh no! This is TERRIBLE! Just TERRIBLE!”
But, after 39 ½ years as Bedford’s Children’s Librarian, Sharon Lawrence MacDonald has some other things on her mind that she wants to accomplish.
“I want to study and research and write books for children—maybe a series of books—about Bedford history,” said MacDonald. “And I want to learn to cook—you know, I don’t know how to cook!—and I want to make muffins and sweet breads and sit with my friends and have tea and finish my sentences, for a change.
“The sad news,” she continued,” is that I’m losing my children. Sometimes, when I’m reading a story to them, I realize I may be the first person to ever read them ‘The Three Little Pigs’ or to treat them to a particular poem. That is a thrill for me, to see the wonder in their faces. They won’t remember that first time, but I will.”
When MacDonald arrived in Bedford in 1972, she was unusual, compared to the conventional librarians of the time.
“She did not look like the other librarians, carrying her guitar and wearing long, flowing skirts,” said Cheryl Stebe, a longtime Bedford resident and a member of the board of the Friends of the Library.
Although Stebe’s own memories of the library during childhood have dimmed, she vividly remembers bringing her own sons to the Children’s Library and recalls their interactions with MacDonald.
“My twins and I loved the children’s story times where Sharon would read with such enthusiasm, throwing herself into the stories with a different voice for each of the characters, Our all-time favorite is when we would sing ‘The more we get together, the happier we’ll be’ at the end of story time. My kids had learned sign language and they ‘taught’ her how to sign the song. They were so proud.”
Kaye Spofford, former president of the Friends, calls MacDonald a “pied piper.” Spofford said that over the years, “Sharon has generated great vibrancy to the library because of the popularity of the Children’s Library, story hours and special programs. It’s a joy to see the children pouring in, full of excitement. I enjoy looking out the window at the outdoor story hours while she is singing and playing the guitar, and all eyes and ears are glued to Sharon.”
Library Director Richard Callaghan says that, without a doubt, MacDonald is the finest children’s librarian he has had the pleasure to work with in the course of his career. “Sharon’s dedication to the education and entertainment of Bedford children is peerless. Her creativity—whether in story telling or puppet shows or playing the guitar—has kept the library’s children’s programs full to bursting with adoring fans.Her creativity and zest for finding new ways to bring children into the library has never flagged.”
Former library director Meredith McCulloch agrees wholeheartedly and adds that Sharon is an extraordinary librarian. “Her love of children and books, her excitement and joy in reading are contagious. I always appreciated that her commitment to excellent library service extended beyond the children’s room to every aspect of the library.”
MacDonald is also noted in town for her stewardship of the Bedford Flag. Callaghan reports that MacDonald has promised to return each year to give her talk when the third grade field trip visits the flag that is housed on the third floor of the library.
As for MacDonald’s readiness for a new chapter in life, she feels that she has reached a point in her career where it’s time to move on.
“There’s a big cycle to things. When I first arrived in Bedford, the main thing was keeping people quiet in the library. That’s what librarians did a lot of. Then you’re always thinking about what stories to read and should I get this new book or what the latest book awards would be. The next big mountain coming up is adding iPad’s in the Children’s Room. You know, I was a big fan of the card catalogue and when that information transitioned to the computer, I was bereft for a while, although I did learn the new system. Now just seems like the right time. My dad said, ‘someone behind you will love to plan the iPad program.’ And he’s right.”
MacDonald’s last day of work at the Bedford Free Public Library will be January 11, 2013.