By Meredith McCulloch
Robert Maier, former Director of the Bedford Library and a major force in founding the Minuteman Library Network will retire as Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) on March 15. Maier led the Bedford Free Public Library from 1976 to 1991, when he was appointed Head of Library Development at MBLC and then Director in 2002. The MBLC is a state agency that offers broad assistance to local libraries and to the nine library networks and oversees state and federal grant funds.
When Maier arrived in Bedford, most libraries in Massachusetts had totally manual systems and booming library use. Books were checked out by stamping the due date on a card and books were located through a paper card catalog. Stuart Liss, then chair of the Library Trustees, recalls, “This was not an easy time for municipalities and for libraries in particular. Inflation was rampant. The economy was sluggish. Municipal budgets were being squeezed and many considered public libraries to be a low priority. To complicate things further for libraries, the traditional library of books, magazines, and vinyl records, was transitioning into a host of new media.” It became clear to Maier that automation and cooperation were needed to meet the demands of increased library use within budget restraints.
So in 1983 Maier lead a small group of local directors that established a 501c organization and secured a federal grant to form a consortium of local libraries. The Minuteman Library Network was incorporated and Maier became its first president. Today the network includes 42 public and academic libraries that lend materials to all patrons across the system. The Network has grown from a simple circulation system, to one that includes an automated catalog, centralized cataloging, an online purchasing system and access to information databases. Library use has boomed as patrons have found how easily they could borrow books, CDs, DVDs, magazines and electronic materials beyond their local shelves. Looking back, Maier said, “I’m thrilled that the Minuteman Network has been so successful.”
He recalls with appreciation the Bedford Library Trustees who were very generous and farseeing in supporting his investment of time in forming the network. When asked how his tenure at Bedford influenced him, he said he learned to support the staff in using their creativity and to become as good as they can be. “You cannot make assumptions about who will travel with you on the journey, who will be energized by change,” he noted.
After retirement his plans begin with travel and local history research around his home in Salem, MA. He plans to remain active in libraries at the national level, working with the American Library Association’s Digital Content Working Group. The purpose is to work with publishers to maintain public library access to electronic eBooks and other electronic media.
Maier’s impact on the Bedford Library continues according to Liss. “Rob provided great leadership to the library, and the library was a more modern and stronger institution when he left than when he started. Rob truly laid the foundation for the library Bedford residents enjoy today.”
Asked what is in store for libraries in the electronic age, Maier said, “Libraries are more needed than ever. The size of our physical collections may change, but libraries will enhance their role. They will remain places for creativity, learning and community.”