By Dot Bergin
The Bedford Free Public Library has an outstanding collection of books and materials dealing with developmental and learning disabilities, funded by the Daniel R. Nickerson Foundation. The Collection is widely recognized by other libraries in our area as a rich resource. The Citizen wondered how this collection came into being and found the story to be an inspiring one.
Raymond S. Nickerson, Ph.D., and his wife Doris, long-time Bedford residents, were the parents of a disabled son, Danny, who was multi-handicapped and died at age 30. Speaking with The Citizen recently, Dr. Nickerson related that in Danny’s memory, he proposed to then-Library Director Meredith McCulloch the idea of building a collection of materials to help others learn more about learning and developmental disabilities. That was in December 1994 and as Nickerson said, “Meredith jumped on the idea” and successfully promoted and began to build the collection we have today. The Nickerson Foundation, a private foundation established by the family, continues to provide funds to keep the collection up to date. Library Director Richard Callaghan told the Trustees recently that “if we want to add to the collection, we simply get in touch with the Foundation and the funds are provided.”
Although the Nickerson Collection is not housed in a separate area, all books purchased with Foundation funds have an identifying bookplate. If you want to browse the shelves, go to the second floor, non-fiction section and begin with the classification 616.85+. Searching the Library’s online catalog for key terms such as developmental disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy or Down Syndrome will bring up titles in the collection. For recent additions, here is a link to the Library’s Pinterest Board “Learning and Developmental Disabilities”: https://bit.ly/Rd750l. This board also points to online resources for those interested in learning more about these issues.
Because April is Autism Awareness Month, a number of the Nickerson Foundation books are currently on display at the top of the stairs on the second level of the building, alongside the Help Autism Speaks: Shine a Light on Autism blue poster. Maribeth Millar, a part time Reference Librarian, is currently managing the collection; Raymond Nickerson had high praise for her efforts.
During April, the Library is sponsoring many activities focused on autism. Children in grades 3-8 are invited to create a poster that features the Nickerson Collection and supports Autism Awareness. There is still time to submit an entry, before Friday, April 18.
The Bedford Library is not the only recipient of foundation funds, although Dr. Nickerson says its holdings are by far the most comprehensive. He is originally from Bangor, Me and has one son living in Portland, so libraries in both those cities receive funding. But neither library has moved forward as successfully with the collection as Bedford, he said.
Dr. Nickerson was for many years a senior vice president at the Cambridge firm of Bolt, Beranek and Newman. Upon his retirement, he joined the faculty of Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences as research psychologist, a position he holds today. His research interests include cognition, human factors and applied experimental psychology. His recent work at Tufts has focused primarily on probabilistic reasoning. He and Doris have two daughters and a son.