All posts by Becky Herrmann

About Becky Herrmann

Becky has been the Library Director since March of 2001. View Becky's complete profile.

The “One Book” Is Chosen!

The people of Chelmsford have spoken and the words are “Empire Falls.” Richard Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was the top vote-getter in our first annual “One Book” election. Close to 1300 Chelmsford residents cast their votes in the November 7th election. “Empire Falls” was the winner with 561 votes, The “Kite Runner” was a close second with 483 votes and “House of Sand and Fog” had 254 votes. The three nominees were selected by a steering committee that reviewed hundreds of nominations submitted by Chelmsford residents from August to October.

The “One Book” program originated in 1998, in Seattle, at the Washington Center for the Book. Renowned librarian Nancy Pearl (she has her own action figure and a show on NPR) was instrumental in getting the program off the ground and it quickly spread across the nation, most notably to Chicago and New York. It was created to bring communities together though the reading and discussion of a common book. It embraced the notion of civic unity through the reading of literature.

Chelmsford has the opportunity to participate in this program because the MA Board of Library Commissioners has designed a grant program promoting community reading projects. The Massachusetts version of the “One Book” program is titled “On the Same Page” [pdf] and is part of a federal LSTA grant program that is administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. The Chelmsford Public Library was one of seven libraries in the state chosen to receive the community reading grant. The grant was awarded in October to be used over the coming year.

In a year when municipal funds are stretched tight, it is particularly gratifying to be given this opportunity. It would have been very difficult to initiate a project of this scope with only municipal funds available. But it seemed a perfect time to apply for the grant as it was an opportunity to continue nourishing the good will and community building that had been going on over the past year in celebration of the town’s 350th anniversary.

This $7500 grant supports programs that increase community connectivity, build social trust and affirm the value of libraries as centers of civic life. The grant will be used to purchase multiple copies of “Empire Falls” in various formats, to conduct programs related to the novel and perhaps to entice Richard Russo to come and visit Chelmsford. The Friends of the Chelmsford Public Library will also be helping with book purchases and programming.

The book chosen by Chelmsford residents is a warmhearted and humorous novel with a cast of colorful characters. Richard Russo brings the rhythms of a small New England town to life, balancing his irreverent humor with empathy for his characters and their foibles. Empire Falls, a town long abandoned by the logging and textile industries is filled with townspeople that provide ample evidence of both the restrictions and forced intimacy of rural New England life.

While Chelmsford has grown much in the last twenty years, it is still at its heart a small town and Russo’s eye and ear for small-town life will ring true for readers. Since Russo has been living in Maine for the last 17 years or so, he has become somewhat removed from the hubbub of city life and taken on more of an air of a country gentleman. In an interview for Powell’s Bookstore, he was described as “Russo exudes a distinctly non-New York City, apart-from-the publishing world attitude, as if he might be your neighbor talking over the fence on a lazy weekend afternoon.”

Chelmsford residents will have a chance to get to know this neighbor through his writings and through programs we will offer that coordinate with Russo’s book. Copies of the books will be available starting in December; our programs will begin after the New Year – some in February which is Library Lovers Month, some in March and the bulk of the book discussions in April during National Library Week. We will be finalizing plans and a calendar and book marks with all the details will be published in the next few weeks. Watch the website for updates! But for now, make reading “Empire Falls” one of your New Year’s resolutions and get ready to discuss!

“Essential” in more ways that one

Sunglasses on a cloudy day — A belt with suspenders — Yankee bobbleheads at Fenway Park – Superfluous? Redundant? Unnecessary? Non-essential? Of course — but the Chelmsford Public Library is that a non-essential service? According to a recent Lowell Sun story, it is.

Tell that to the 175,000 library visitors who walked in the door last year, the 13,500 people who attended programs or the 20,000 folks whose reference questions we answered in FY06. Also, tell it to the folks who booked the meeting room 1500 times last year and the library patrons who helped us circulate almost 600,000 items in FY06. We are the busiest library in the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium –it could be because 98.5% of our 2005 Library survey respondents rated our library services as “good” (19.4%) or “excellent” (79.1%).

Every day, the library is here for the community – and yes, we are here for pleasure reading, for entertaining programs, for fun but we are also here helping people with questions and problems that they consider completely essential to their lives. We are here when you need health and medical information, when you are searching for a job and even when a student forgets his or her textbook at school. (Tell the distressed parent that service is not essential!)

If you need the latest stock quote, want to know how much to sell your used car for, how to get a federal tax extension form, or are researching colleges, we are the place for you. We consult on how to build lightning rods, what colors a Victorian home should be authentically painted, how big a regulation Little League field is and when the federal milk subsidy began. We can even give you recipes for dog biscuits or turtle soup. Essential? You bet. Every question we get asked is important to the person asking it.

But imagine a Chelmsford without a library —

It had been raining for six days. The kids had watched “The Wiggles” so many times that Mrs. Dewey was humming the theme music in her sleep. They had read every picture book in the house and they needed a new selection. But mostly Mrs. Dewey needed human contact – story time would do the trick – parents, children — people she could really talk to and share her frustrations about potty training, temper tantrums and how to get strained pea stains out of her favorite silk blouse. Too bad the local library had been cut from the town budget. Story time may seem non-essential but to a parent who is starving for adult interaction it is the perfect place to get advice on how to get the baby to sleep through the night —

Fortunately we are here and we see how we are needed every day when

A young woman moves into Chelmsford – she is from a foreign country and is hoping to acclimate to life in America. She needs practical advice on how to get a driver’s license and where to register her car, but she also needs social advice. She wants to know how to find babysitters and doctors for her young children, the best playgrounds and pre-schools.

The library sponsors English conversation circles run by generous volunteers who provide the perfect environment to encourage non-native speakers to “try on” English and ask questions about American culture.

A patron comes into the library to look for a job. He is shown how to use Internet job sites, the local classified ads, resume books and how to research companies using library databases. Eventually he finds a job as a salesman, but then discovers that his computer skills are not at the level the company requires. He is told about the “One-On-One” computer sessions the library offers. He comes every week for six months, and becomes comfortable using Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as using email to communicate with his customers. He tells the reference staff that if the library had not offered this program, he would have had to pay for this training on his own or lose his job.

A teenager comes to the desk and asks for books about alcohol abuse. The teen services librarian pulls a pile of books off the shelf — a mix of research materials and self-help – as they continue to talk it becomes apparent that the teen is dealing with an actual experience – one of his friends was killed in a drinking and driving accident. He is in the library trying to find ways to cope. She quickly moves onto books that deal with grief and coping with depression. Each week we find books pulled from the shelves and shoved into unlikely hiding places. Books that cover topics like date rape, sexual identity, self-mutilation and eating disorders. The library and its resources are a haven for teens that are struggling with difficult issues and want confidentiality as they discover more about themselves. And the librarians are there to refer them to the resources they need.

For all of these folks, the Chelmsford Public Library is absolutely essential. Do you have a story to tell? Has the library changed your life in any way? Share your experiences with us and submit your story to the library — either via the form on our website or by e-mailing it to – You can also pick up the phone, drop it in the mailbox or tell us in person. We would love to hear your stories.

But if the above stories don’t convince you, let the dollars and cents speak to you. Try our library calculator at Click on “Library Information” and then “About Us” to find the calculator. It will put a dollar value on how much the services provided to you by the library would cost if you had to pay for them directly. Try it! You might be surprised. An average family of 4 attending story time once a week and checking out books, magazines and DVD’s could spend potentially $10,000 a year for those same services and materials provided by the library.

The cost of providing library services to the people of Chelmsford from theFY07 municipal budget? $1.4 million. The smiles on the faces of library patrons as they attend a program, have a question answered, or find the book, CD or DVD they’ve been searching for — Priceless —

Chelmsford: On The Same Page

Are we all on the same page in Chelmsford? Not yet — but we will be! Nominations for the “One Book-Chelmsford” community-wide reading program have been arriving daily — by paper ballot and via our website, The choices are as wide-ranging, unique and opinionated as Chelmsford residents themselves. So it is no surprise that as of yet, there is no clear consensus of opinion. We are a community blessed with diversity and the nominations reflect that. If you haven’t nominated a title yet, you still have time. To date, we have collected over 100 nominations and expect many more to come in before the October 16th deadline.

The nominations so far include fiction and non-fiction, mysteries, science fiction, children’s books and memoirs. Many New England authors such as Chris Bohjalian, Jodi Picoult, John Irving, Archer Mayor, Linda Greenlaw and Stephen King have been highlighted. The nominations also include many Massachusetts authors such as Anita Shreve, Elinor Lipman, Alice Hoffman, Andre Dubus III, Tracy Kidder and local author Richard Rotelli. They also include Massachusetts settings like Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake,” Roland Merullo’s “In Revere in Those Days,” Meghan Marshall’s “The Peabody Sisters” and Dennis Lehane’s “Mystic River.”

Classics such as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” and Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” have made the list. Books with area connections were nominated including Lowell resident, Jack Kerouac’s defining novel of the Beat Generation, “On the Road” and Katherine Paterson’s “Lyddie” a tale of a young girl working in the mills of Lowell.

Book club favorites such as “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel and “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time” by Mark Haddon received several mentions. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro, and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer — two quirkier book club selections that work well for discussion also made the list.

Small town depictions got the green light from some folks as Russell Banks “The Sweet Hereafter,” Richard Russo’s “Empire Falls” and Sinclair Lewis’ “Main Street” all garnered votes.

Some voters were more enthusiastic than others, with one child nominating the same book eight times – (All the nominations were in the same ballot box and the handwriting was exactly the same) The choice -“Eragon” – a swashbuckling tale filled with magic stones, dragons and battle scenes was written by Christopher Paolini while in his teens. – It is an impressive accomplishment for a young author and will be released as a major motion picture in December.

Other youth-oriented titles that would be great to share as a family read-aloud include: “Inkheart” by Cornelia Funke, “Hoot” by Carl Hiassen, “Whirligig” by Paul Fleishman, “Esperanza Rising” by Pam Munoz Ryan, “Star Girl” by Jerry Spinelli, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s “Peter and the Starcatchers,” Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” and Wilson Rawls -“Where the Red Fern Grows.”

Memoir/biography nominations included “John Adams” by David McCullough, “The Color of Water” by James McBride, “Funny in Farsi” by Firoozeh Dumas, and the still popular “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom. Non-fiction titles included the provocative “End of Nature” by Bill McKibben, the classic “Ascent of Man” by Jacob Bronowski, and the ambitious “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond. “An Inconvenient Truth” by Al Gore and Jonathan Harr’s “The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece” both also had several votes.

As the committee sorts through the votes and comes up with a final ballot for Election Day, November 7th, several criteria will be considered. In keeping with the spirit of the grant that the library received from the MA Board of Library Commissioners, we will focus on pleasure reading and drawing in new readers. Titles chosen will most likely be fewer than 400 pages, available in paperback and will lend themselves to companion programming. The committee is focusing on choosing a slate of “One Book” candidates that will have broad community appeal, be enjoyable to read, and be worth talking about.

All it takes to nominate a title is to go online to the library’s website and click on the ‘One Town’ logo. That will bring you to the ballot. The deadline to nominate a title is October 16th. So many books so little time — Nominate your choice today!

I don’t like spiders and snakes – and I’m not too fond of bats either

I had some trouble falling asleep last night – oh, I don’t know – it might have been the bat flying around my bedroom. I am the first to extol the virtues of bats for controlling the mosquito population in my yard, but I have to draw the line when they invade my personal space. While I was cowering in the closet, my husband handled it. First he pretended he was a bat whisperer and tried to coax the creature out – (hey if it works for horses, why not?) Then he got smart. He opened the window screen – exited the room, waited a while and then gave me the all clear signal. Now we could go back to bed. But getting to sleep was another story.

Maybe that is the result of something a pest control officer told me a few years ago. In my old house — which was attached to a barn — at one point we had six bats in my dining room. I called the pest control folks for advice. They told us to open the windows and said “If you see six, you probably have sixty!” Yikes.

Despite their homely appearance – think rat with leathery wings – bats have a certain cachet in children’s literature. “Stellaluna” by Janell Cannon is the story of an adorable fruit bat that tumbles into a bird’s nest and is raised as a bird until she is reunited with her mother. Popular with the preschool crowd, Cannon’s illustrations are lush and the bat is definitely cute – contrary to what I can tell you they look like when they land in your hair while you are lying in bed.

When I think bats, I also think rabies – and that brings me back to the time my daughter thought the dog had gotten into the trash in the barn and dutifully started picking it up. As she picked half-chewed cucumbers up off the wooden floor, a raccoon – foaming at the mouth – was hunkered down in the corner. His heavy breathing alerted her and the next door neighbor (a sheriff) captured it and took it down to the state animal welfare office where they diagnosed rabies. Thus began her multiple rounds of rabies shots. Not a thing to make her feel fond of raccoons. And yet, when I think of raccoons in children’s literature – they are pretty darn cute too. Who can forget the antics of Sterling North’s raccoon “Rascal“? Set at the end of World War I, this reminiscence of life in a small Midwestern town with a baby raccoon is still popular. And “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn is a heartwarming tale of Chester the raccoon who is nervous about going to school. His clever mom solves the problem by finding a way to send one of her reassuring kisses along with him to school.

There seems to be a tradition in children’s books of transforming slightly scary creatures into familiar friends – we have Charlotte the spider who is wise and kind in E.B. White’s classic “Charlotte’s Web” — White obviously never camped in Maryland like I did and woke up with the tent ceiling literally covered with hundreds of spiders. If only those spiders had been writing words in their webs — like Charlotte did — instead of crawling into our sleeping bags. In addition to “Stellaluna” we also have Janell Cannon rehabilitating the reputation of snakes in her book “Verdi.” It is the story of an easy-to-like python that resists growing old and staid. His exuberance is matched by the vivid greens and yellows of Cannon’s illustrations.

Chester, the country cricket is another example of a children’s character that is based on a pesky creature. Chester inadvertently finds himself stranded in a NYC subway station in George Selden’s “Cricket in Times Square” – This Newbery classic and its film version are still a great choice for family enjoyment. Verna Aardema did her best to make us sympathetic to mosquitoes in her retelling of a West African folktale titled “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.” With Leo and Diane Dillon’s colorful illustrations and inventive language, this Caldecott Medal winner is perfect for sharing with a group.

This summer in the children’s room we’ve also embraced our share of creepy crawlies – the summer reading theme is “What’s buzzin at the library?” We are sharing stories and pictures of bees, butterflies, cicadas, dragonflies, lady bugs, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, slugs, scorpions and (gasp) cockroaches. Some patrons have even brought bugs in for us to try to identify. For more reading ideas on insects and other things that crawl on you in the night, drop by and pick up one of our reading lists – apparently there is no end to stories about bugs. Nature — it’s a beautiful thing.

Reprinted with permission from the Chelmsford Independent

Your library card is more powerful than ever

I heard the news today, oh boy. At the end of a high school dance — when the couples linger on the dance floor — the slow song that they still play is yes, you guessed right, it’s – drum roll please – “Stairway to Heaven.” (And the kids still don’t know what to do during the fast part) But apparently there has been no clear-cut successor to Led Zeppelin.

While “Stairway” is a memorable song – who doesn’t chime in with the enigmatic “is there a bustle in your hedgerow?” — I still think that the teens today should find their own song. The only problem is — radio stations keep playing the same tunes. They’re the songs you heard when you were in high school, only now they are on the Oldies stations. It is enough to make you feel tired, bored, depressed – even, well — old. Every day as you drive to work, you’re in danger of being sucked into this musical maelstrom. Who is not sick of listening to the same songs, the same talk show hosts and the same tired commercials? But hey, don’t let it bring you down. It’s only castles burning.

And fortunately there is an alternative – come to the library! Check out our rich array of pop, classical and jazz CD’s, hum along to some show tunes or learn a new language. We have something for every taste. But don’t stop at the music, we also have audio books for your listening pleasure. The Chelmsford Public Library has thousands of audio books on both CD and cassette, with titles ranging from medical thrillers like James Patterson’s “5th Horseman” to “Cesar’s Way” — a guide to correcting common dog problems — to the entire compendium of Harry Potter books. You can pop an audiotape or CD into your car player and escape the humdrum routine. But audio books are not just for driving – we have library patrons who love to multi-task — they cook, knit, paint, vacuum, or some even work out at the gym while they listen to books.

And now, if the notion strikes you to listen to an audio book when we’re not open, you need not worry. Just as you peruse our catalog, print magazine articles from a database, renew your books on line or reserve museum passes with the magic of your library card – as of July 5th –you will also be able to download an audio book.

Our collection will be greatly expanded through a new service offered by MVLC (Merrimack Valley Library Consortium.) MVLC has contracted with Overdrive Media to provide downloadable audio books from beloved classics to the latest bestsellers, all from the comfort of your home. And there are even children’s books including “Anne of Green Gables” just waiting for you to download for your next family road trip. This is a pilot project with a small collection (163 titles) to start. But through the cooperative effort of consortium libraries and funds from the Chelmsford Friends of the Library — (I get by with a little help from my Friends) –the collection will increase by approximately 30-40 titles per month.

All it takes is the proper (free) software, a personal computer, an MP3 player – (for those in the know — this could also be a player on your PDA, your BlackBerry, or your smartphone ) — an Internet connection, that magical library card and a little derring-do – (a little human action.). For more details, check out our library webpage at and click on the Overdrive button. And remember, this service is available whenever the spirit moves you — 24/7. Eight days a week

Reprinted with permission from the Chelmsford Independent

This summer I saddled up with Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call

This summer I saddled up with Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call — two Texas Rangers. It wasn’t my first ride with this duo. They aren’t baseball players but the main characters of Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning Western “Lonesome Dove.” Every few years, I feel the pull of the open prairie, the call of the wild and the need for a little adventure, romance and rough talking with gun-slinging cowboys.

But I don’t head for the dude ranch; I find all of that and more in McMurtry’s eloquently written novel. Set in the late 1800’s, Lonesome Dove is the story of an evolving friendship between two Texas rangers turned horse rustlers. One is a romantic, the other a driven authoritarian. In their early years, they shared danger and adventure battling American Indians and clearing the west for settlement. But the years are catching up with them. A cattle drive from Texas to Montana is their chance to start a new life and bring back a bit of the excitement they miss from their rangering days.

And that is what many of us look for in a book for the summer — excitement and a real escape from the tedium of a working day. Summer is a terrific time to relax, unwind and visit with old friends, real or imagined.

Much-loved titles that invite revisiting include: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and the last book I read aloud to my two oldest (12 and 14 at the time) — Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Familiar friends also abound in the fantasy genre. Fantasy and science fiction titles in particular seem to be popular choices for re-reading. Classics like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Peter Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn” and Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy stand up to the test of time. The Harry Potter books and Philip Pullman’s series “His Dark Materials” featuring The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass promise to be new classics that will be re-read by future generations. Several science fiction titles that library patrons revisit are the Dune series by Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Historical titles that have resonated with folks lately and are worth re-reading because of recent and ongoing news events are All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – context says it all.

Sometimes the richness of the language is what brings us back. A certain description, a turn of phrase, a scrap of dialogue – we delve into Nabokov’s Lolita, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, and the short stories of Raymond Carver and Andre Dubus for repeat pleasure. But for sheer virtuosity of language, no one rivals Shakespeare. His works are always a pleasure to re-read.

Pre-school children understand the joy of re-reading picture books. Lines like “In the great green room” “The night Max wore his wolf suit” or “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines” are familiar to many of us and evoke memories of repeated readings. But children’s chapter books are great to re-read too. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and the more recent Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo come to mind as great books to share again and again.

Why does returning to familiar literary ground give so much pleasure? It strengthens our memories, anchors us – soothes and relaxes. Re-reading favorite books is like eating Mom’s chocolate chip cookies, a sort of comfort food for the soul. And I know that each time I meet up with Gus and Call, it is like greeting old friends.

Reprinted with permission from the Chelmsford Independent