Monday, December 6, 2010

Retiring Jones Libary Director Bonnie Isman Honored at Renaissance Center

On, November 21, the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies and Amherst Woman's Club hosted a farewell reception for Bonnie Isman, who is retiring after more than thirty years of service.

In brief remarks, Isman urged guests in the packed reading room to act with energy and optimism: "Don't give up on the library.  Stay involved."

Although some may have thought they detected a subtle allusion to recent controversies that preceded her retirement announcement, it was clear that her focus was on the big picture. The Library, she said, faced many challenges in an age of world economic crisis, local fiscal constraints, and changing culture.  Continued involvement was the only solution.
There is the challenge of the digital world that is now invading and multiplying the world of print.  One wonders whether books will survive.  But we shouldn't give up one medium just because another comes along.

I urge you to be involved—and keep reading.
A small display of documents and photographs assembled by Center Office Manager and librarian Jeff Goodhind chronicled Isman's career, and in the process, made clear the extent to which the evolution of the Jones Library into a fully modern institution was her achievement.  Many residents are aware that she oversaw a $ 5 million renovation and expansion of the building, but they may not be aware that she also envisioned and guided the transition into that digital world: she "helped set up the regional online catalog and interlibrary loan system" and "supervised the conversion of the card catalog to an online system."

The display at the Renaissance Center makes one suddenly realize just how much has changed. A 1986 newspaper article reported on the exciting arrival of an Apple computer for public use.  "Sometimes people's hands shake, and they ask, 'What if I break it?'" explained audio-visual technician Cathy Verts. Those bold enough to overcome their fears could—for 50 cents for 15 minutes or $2 for a full hour—experiment with word processing (on a 128K text card) or try out all 200 software programs, many of which, Verts proudly proclaimed, would have cost an individual the princely sum of "$ 35 or $40" to purchase.

Isman had been breaking new ground since her arrival as adult services librarian in 1972. The next year, she originated the idea of the Women's Guide, "a descriptive catalog of places to go for help with child care, legal and health problems, education and employment."  As she explained, "we need not only to circulate already existing information but to create new sources of it."

Isman left Amherst in 1976 and worked in the Virgin Islands until 1979, when she returned to the Jones, assuming the directorship in 1980. At her first formal performance review in 1985, the trustees gave her "an outstanding and excellent rating."  The local newspaper called it a "glowing evaluation,"  and the same term could apply to the comments at her send-off at the Renaissance Center.

Isman (in red) with well-wishers
The public will have another chance to thank Isman at the formal ceremony marking her retirement, at the Jones Library, Tuesday, December 7, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. According to the announcement:
"The entire community is welcome to come and say a few words to Bonnie at this stop-by open house," said Katie George, who is organizing the event on behalf of the Friends of the Jones Library.

Isman is scheduled to retire Dec. 10.

George said the party will include an overview of Isman's tenure.

State Sen. Stan Rosenberg and Rep. Ellen Story are expected to be in attendance, and Rob Maier, a representative from the state Board of Library Commissioners, will be presenting a commendations to Isman,

Isman has asked that all retirement gifts be made to the Friends' "Fund for Fun" account. Refreshments will be served.
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