Cary Library Celebrates a Retiring Lady of Letters

Cynthia Johnson

Cynthia Johnson

By Jane Whitehead

Cynthia Johnson wanted no fanfare to mark the end of her three decades’ service at Cary Library, most recently as Assistant Director. No speeches, no presentations, she pleaded. But colleagues stealthily plotted an elegant, low-key Regency-themed tea party that took place in the Administrative offices on Thursday, October 30. (The theme was a salute to Johnson’s authorship of 15 historical novels set in the British Regency period, from 1811-1820.)

Among the guests who gathered to eat scones and wish Johnson well were all four Directors of Cary Library with whom she has worked; Bob Hilton, Carol Mahoney, Connie Rawson, and current Director Koren Stembridge, together with current and former staff, Library Trustees, patrons, and members of the Cary Memorial Library Foundation and the Friends.

Recently retired Cary librarian Elizabeth Dickinson presented Johnson with a handsome scrapbook filled with pages created by colleagues and friends. The volume reflects her wit, kindness, sense of humor, athleticism (she swims and runs every day), writing, style (think Burberry raincoats and Mont Blanc pens), and her years of service to Cary Library from her arrival in 1983 as Reference and Young Adult Librarian through two stints as Head of Reference Services, and two periods as Assistant Director. In all these roles, said former Library Director Carol Mahoney, Johnson proved herself “the consummate professional librarian.”

On October 30, 2014, Cynthia Johnson retired after 31 years of service in various capacities at the Cary Library. On hand to celebrate with Cynthia were all 4 library directors with whom she has served.  From left to right, Koren Stembridge, Connie Rawson, Cynthia Johnson, Carol Mahoney, and Robert Hilton.

On October 30, 2014, Cynthia Johnson retired after 31 years of service in various capacities at the Cary Library. On hand to celebrate with Cynthia were all 4 library directors with whom she has served.
From left to right, Koren Stembridge, Connie Rawson, Cynthia Johnson, Carol Mahoney, and Robert Hilton.

To the surprise of no Cary Library insiders, Dickinson appeared in a raccoon mask and tail. Raccoon references also peppered the scrapbook. A page headed “Cynthia’s Retirement Reading” featured spoof titles including Day of the Raccoon, and Raccoon on a Cold Slate Roof. Teen Librarian Jennifer Forgit explained that on a winter evening in 2004, a patron at one of the internet terminals gave a cry of alarm as a raccoon fell out of the ceiling, where a tile had become dislodged.

“Wearing her suit and high heels, and not a hair out of place, Cynthia captured it in a recycling bin and took it up Belfry Hill to release it,” said Forgit. “Raccoons have been showing up in her office ever since then,” said Stembridge. “Cynthia’s so well known for being a lover of nature that the staff have endless fun redecorating her office every time she goes away – there’s always some tableau, with animals in costume.”

Jane Eastman, Johnson’s long time colleague on the Reference desk, also witnessed the raccoon ejection. “Cynthia will tackle anything – she’s very dauntless!” said Eastman. Eastman, who retired in 2003, but still works occasional hours in the Library, recalled challenging queries she and Johnson fielded in the pre-internet era. “Do you have a video on making rubber gloves?” “How many stoplights are there in Rio de Janeiro?” “What’s the electrical code of Las Vegas?” From Johnson, said Eastman, she learned two essential qualities of the public reference librarian: “to listen well and have endless patience.”

“Cynthia set a high bar for the rest of us to aspire to,” said Stembridge, noting that Johnson’s “deep research capability” and boundless curiosity made her an excellent match for the intellectually demanding Lexington community. Cary’s impressively broad and deep adult book collection is “really Cynthia’s creation, after all these years,” said Eastman. “She would think about things that people needed to know about, and if she could find a book that would meet the need, she would get it.”

Another part of Johnson’s legacy, said Eastman, is the Lexington Authors’ Collection now housed in the Periodicals Reading Room. Building on a small collection started in the late 1960s, Johnson has gathered over 500 volumes by people who live and work in town, from Nobel Prize winners to first-time novelists. “It’s a great way to demonstrate what a diverse community Lexington is,” said Johnson, noting that the collection spans subject matter from “religion to radar to Shakespeare to politics.”

“I’ve been in denial about Cynthia leaving,” admitted Forgit. “I can’t imagine the library without her,” she said. Calling Johnson “the first real mentor of my adult life,” Forgit recalled how tactfully Johnson had made her realize that she needed to upgrade her fresh-from-campus sartorial style, by asking her to re-write the Library’s dress code.  “She is amazingly good at leading you gently into the light,” said Forgit.

In a conversation in her airy office a couple of weeks before her retirement, Johnson was keen to deflect attention away from her personal history and focus instead on the “outstanding organization” that has been her professional home for decades. Over the years, she said, Cary Library has been “blessed with wonderful directors who hired great staff and let them do their thing while quietly orchestrating possibilities in the background: Bob Hilton set the gold standard for the collection with his bibliographic knowledge and expertise; Carol [Mahoney] built us the building, Connie [Rawson] heard the community when they said they wanted programming, and Koren  [Stembridge] is the most fabulous yet, identifying community talent and showcasing it here so that Cary remains at the heart of the community in so many ways.”

The library was also the heart of Rockford, Illinois, the prosperous manufacturing town where Johnson grew up. “My mother always took us to the library,” she said, describing her family as “bookish to a fault.” “We had complete sets of Thackeray and Walter Scott, and you never knew that Dumas wrote so many books,” she said. As a girl, she devoured biographies of American historical figures, historical fiction, and on a snow day when she was in high school, discovered Jane Austen. “That was my true love,” she said, and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice still stands as her “all time favorite” novel, closely followed by George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

Growing up in a house full of books and no television, with parents who read the Wall Street Journal rather than the Rockford Register Star, Johnson said she often felt “totally isolated” from her schoolmates. Ahead of their time in many ways, Johnson’s parents rode bicycles, kept a compost heap, did their own yard work, and drove a foreign car, the first in town. Johnson’s father, a reconstructive plastic surgeon who learned his skills treating scarred Battle of Britain pilots in England and leprosy patients in India, “felt firmly that you should leave a place better than you found it, and he instilled that in all of us,” said Johnson, the eldest of three children.

After majoring in English and French at Wellesley College, where another Illinois native, Hillary Rodham, headed the student government in Johnson’s freshman year, Johnson took a Master’s in Library Science at Simmons College. Her first full-time job as a librarian was a four-year stint as Reference and Young Adult Librarian at Memorial Hall Library in Andover, Massachusetts.

Although Johnson enjoyed her time in Andover, she returned to the world of academic scholarship, taking a master’s degree from Northwestern University in 18th-century English and French literature. On completing the degree, poor academic job prospects made her give up the idea of continuing with doctoral studies, but she had polished the research skills that would underpin her success both as reference librarian and writer.

“They do say you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to sell a book without an agent,” said Johnson. But her experience shows that persistence and knowledge of the publishing industry can sometimes lift a manuscript out of the slush pile. Johnson wrote her first novel in the early 1980s, as a diversion from the stress of job-hunting. When she tried to sell it in 1988, she received polite rejections from three publishers before approaching Signet: New American Library.

Cynthia Johnson’s publicity photo as Evelyn Richardson. Cynthia has published fifteen Regency Romances under her pen name.

Cynthia Johnson’s publicity photo as Evelyn Richardson. Cynthia has published fifteen Regency Romances under her pen name.

After losing the first copy of the story, Signet asked her to send it again, then called her at the reference desk at Cary to offer her a two-book contract. The Education of Lady Frances, published in 1989, was the first of fifteen Regency romances written under the pen name Evelyn Richardson. (The pseudonym is a nod to English novelist and diarist Fanny Burney’s most famous heroine, Evelina, and Johnson’s maternal grandmother, whose name was Richardson.) Johnson’s “Regencies” have been praised by Booklist for their deft incorporation of historical details and “superbly nuanced characters.”

Johnson’s current writing projects are a “fictional biography” of the scandal-prone Swiss-born painter Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) that she has been working on for five years, and the first book in a trilogy of “Regency Historical” novels. The distinction between the “Regency” and the “Regency Historical” genre is very fine, explained Johnson: the latter being slightly longer, with “more sex.”

As she moves on from full-time work at Cary, Johnson looks forward to writing more, skiing more, and learning to travel at a more leisurely pace. “I just want not to be rushing from one thing to another,” she said. But Cary is a famously difficult place to truly retire from, as attested by the many former librarians, including Eastman and Dickinson, who regularly make encore appearances when needed.

“We’re not going to let Cynthia go!” said Stembridge, laughing. “She’s still going to stay connected and we’ll benefit from her institutional knowledge and her years of experience. This is her library, and she won’t abandon us completely!”

 


 

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11/24/2014

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Lexington Reads 2014!

 

Reads 2

COMMUNITY BOOK

Community Book

Community Book

2014 is a Year of Discovery at Cary Memorial Library, and so our Lexington Reads theme is Digital Me, an exploration of how science and technology affects our daily lives. In keeping with this theme, our Lexington Reads book  is Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompson.

 

In Smarter Than You Think, Clive Thompson explores how the explosion of technology available to the average person is forcing us to adapt and change our behavior.  Featuring both experts and everyday people using these tools in new and unexpected ways, Thompson shows how humans are using technology to create real change. Whether it is students using technology to protest a factory spewing dangerous chemicals or a group of gamers collectively solving a problem that puzzled HIV researchers for a decade, Thompson demonstrates that great opportunities arise from the digital world. Along the way, he stressed the importance of keeping the best of our old ways of life while embracing the new tech that allows for such collaboration and communication.

Throughout the month of March, Cary Library will host a variety of programs focused on the ways technology has become created a “Digital Me.” As 2014 continues, we will continue to explore issues related to science and technology as part of our Year of Discovery. Please watch the library calendar and local media for more information. Please join us!

Stop by or call Cary  Library (781-862-6288 x250) to pick up or reserve a copy of Smarter Than You Think.

 

 

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Author, Clive Thompson

Author, Clive Thompson

Sunday, March 9th at 3pm
An Afternoon with Clive Thompson
Battin Hall in the Cary Building,
1605 Massachusetts Ave.

Author Clive Thompson will discuss how technology is making us smarter, empowering people across the globe, and solving seemingly impossible problems. With a growing number of smart phone users, almost everyone has a computer and a camera accessible at all times. How we use these tools can and should combine the best of the old way of life and the vast opportunities presented by technology.  In this discussion, Clive Thompson will explore the many positive ways technology is changing our lives and impacting the world around us.
Clive Thompson is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Smithsonian, and a columnist for Wired. He has also maintained a science-and-technology blog, Collision Detection, since 2002 and speaks frequently on topics relating to the evolution and everyday use of technology.
Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think is this year’s Lexington Reads Community Book. Library copies of Smarter Than You Think may be reserved online or by calling 781-862-6288 ext 250. Copies of Smarter Than You Think will also be available for purchase and signing at the lecture. No registration necessary.

 

RETRO TECHNOLOGY FAIR

Saturday, March 1, 1-4PM   |   Cary Large Meeting Room

Explore the technological wonders of the past at our Retro Technology Fair! Technology isn’t only social media and big data—it is also rotary phones and manual typewriters! Everyday objects and iconic inventions will demonstrate how people entertained themselves and communicated before smart phones and streaming video. Bring the whole family and learn about the evolution of technology. Some objects may be available for hands-on demonstrations.

 

APPY HOUR

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Wednesday, March 12
Cary Commons
5-6PM

Sick of the apps you always use? Looking for something new and fresh? Join us at Appy Hour and learn about the best apps for travel, photography, art, gaming, and more. This will be a social, interactive event, so bring your tablet or smartphone and be ready to discuss with your neighbors. Wi-fi is available throughout the library. No registration required

 

 

SPEAKER

Garry Golden

Futurist, Garry Golden

 

Garry Golden
Sunday, March 31
Cary Hall | 3PM
What is the Future?

Join futurist Garry Golden as we look ahead to what the future holds for our digital selves. Technology changes so quickly—how can we adapt and change to integrate these technologies into our daily lives? Garry Golden will discuss how privacy, measurements of intelligence, and our relationship to our physical world might change. Golden is an academically trained futurist who speaks and consults on issues facing 21st century society, including those issues facing libraries. A short question and answer session will follow Garry Golden’s talk. No registration necessary.

 

 

 

 

SPEAKER

Blogger, Author and Librarian, Jessamyn West

Blogger, Author and Librarian, Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West
Saturday, March 22
Cary Large Meeting Room
10:00 AM-Noon
All About Blogging Brunch

Join members of the Friends of the Library as they host this annual event! The All About Blogging Brunch gives blog lovers and computer rookies alike an opportunity to discuss the world of blogging while eating brunch. This year’s special guest is Jessamyn West, an author, librarian, and community manager of MetaFilter.com. Jessamyn West lives in Central Vermont, where she works with small libraries with technology planning and implementation. She has maintained professional and personal blogs at librarian.net and jessamyn.com for over a decade, and speaks nationally on digital divide issues. We hope that all community members interested in communication and social issues attend; use of blogs is not required. Attendance is limited. Advance registration required.

 

 

TEEN TECH SEMINARS

gadgets-for-teens

Monday – Friday
4-5 pm in the
Cary Large Meeting Room

  • Monday, March 3
  • Word Processing
  • Tuesday, March 4
  • Websites you should know about
  • Wednesday, March 5
  • Facebook
  • Thursday, March 6Skype
  • Friday, March 7
  • iPhone and iPad/iOS7*

Lexington’s tech savvy teens will demonstrate how they use technology to keep in touch with friends and family, share photos and videos, and navigate the online world.  Each day teens will explain a new topic.

No experience is necessary. *You may bring your iPad or iPhone if you have one.

Teen Tech Seminars are presented by the Cary Memorial Library Teen Advisory Board. Please register for each day you wish to attend. Register by calling Cary Library at 781-862-6288 ext 250 or stopping at the reference desk.

 

 

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Cary’s Cupids 2012~Click to View Slideshow

 

It was Valentine’s Day weekend and the Cary Memorial Library Foundation threw a party to support the town’s treasured library. Cary’s Cupids was a huge undertaking for the organization, but a small army of volunteers collaborated to create a truly memorable event.

“We might just have another great Lexington tradition,” commented Jeanne Krieger, current President of the Board of Directors. “Lots of people enjoying good company in the library—a wonderful way to help make a great Library extraordinary!”

The event was sponsored by The Crafty Yankee, Higgins Group Realtors, Lexington Toyota, Deaconess Residences at Newbury Court, and Watertown Savings.

Lexingtonians turned out to show their love for the library by supporting this great event and having a great time doing it! There was dancing, specialty beer, great silent auction items and lots of mingling as neighbors took the opportunity to see the library in a whole new light. Festooned for the occasion with decorations by members of the LABBB program, the library came to life in the after-hours proving once again what a great investment the library renovation was and continues to be for the town of Lexington.

Jay Kaufman and wife along with Norman and Linda Cohen were spotted dancing in the “Cary Commons” to tunes supplied by DJ Jon Mansfield.

Everyone lined up to taste the creations of Lexington native Dan Kramer, founder of Element Brewing in Millers Falls and those who prefer wine enjoyed selections provided by Burlington Wine & Spirits.

The auction was led by committee member Anne Lee. So many great items were available from a beautiful handmade table donated by local artisan Adam Curtis to hot air balloon rides donated by Soaring Adventures of America! Many local Lexington businesses and artists also made generous donations to the silent auction.

According to Kathryn Benjamin Director of Development for the Cary Memorial Library Foundation, the event was a huge success. “I am happy to announce that Cary’s Cupids exceeded its goal of $20,000 by raising just over $21,000! Over 250 tickets were sold, with about 200 people were in attendance,” she said.

Cary’s Cupids is the single largest fundraising event of the year for the CMLF. The proceeds from this event support its collections and programming.

 

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