THE NEXT CHAPTER—December, 2023
Sometimes when a book is good, you don’t want to put it down. You don’t race through it. You savor it. You linger. You allow the language, the descriptions and the characters to become real, sometimes reading and re-reading paragraphs and portions so that you completely appreciate it. You take your time. You slow down. You treasure each moment because you know—it is inevitable—that one day you will come to the end. And as satisfying as that ending may be, you are sorry that the book is finished.
This is how I feel personally, as I prepare to take my leave of the Free Library lf New Hope and Solebury at the end of this year. For nearly 12 years, I have had the privilege of being the director of this library: a place that has become a second home to me and its patrons, a second family.
I wasn’t always a librarian. My younger self wanted to be a journalist and for many years, I pursued this dream through high school and college and finally getting a job with Corporate Monthly, a small business magazine in Philadelphia. Sadly, every job I held had its problems. No sooner than I would manage to have my articles published, something would happen that set me back to square one: the publication folded, editors would leave, the magazine would be sold, or departments would be laid off. I persisted, but it was going to be a slow climb.
When I was a little girl, my parents were more than happy to purchase whatever books I wanted from the Scholastic book sale fliers that came through the school. They were avid readers and fully believed in encouraging their daughter to be the same, and I didn’t disappoint. My books took pride of place on top of my bureau and for Christmas one year, I begged my mother to buy me a date stamper because how was I going to manage my home library without one? I happily created date cards and checked out books to my stuffed animals and any other human I could convince to borrow a book from my library. I still have those books and I treasure them and, yes, I re-read them too.
I suppose the handwriting was on the wall then, but I just never saw it until I had children of my own. I discovered a weekly story time at our local library. While my kids enjoyed themselves, I had a fabulous time! We got to read picture books, sing songs, do fingerplays, play with other kids and, after the program was over, head over to the children’s section where we could choose whatever books we wanted and take them home—FOR FREE!!! What an amazing place a library is! What a gift to be a librarian and share these wonderful stories with kids! What a special, overwhelmingly beautiful place filled with books, learning, people, and a kind staff that embraced my little family with smiles and friendly greetings. This truly is a slice of what life should be.
And that is how it began.
I’ve worked as a children’s services assistant, was awarded the Laura Bush 20th Century Library scholarship, became the Warminster Township Free Library’s children’s librarian, Bucks County’s Youth Services Consultant, the children’s services manager of Montgomery County’s District Center Library in Norristown and finally the Director of the Free Library of New Hope and Solebury. (I figured it was time to grow up:))
New Hope was my dream job. A small community, an historic building, and the support of a team of staff and volunteers. I was determined to give this community the best library that I possibly could and upon reflection, I hope I managed to do that. We renovated the building, introduced some amazing new services and survived a pandemic. It hasn’t always been easy, but this community made everything worthwhile. The best thing about the New Hope-Solebury Library has always been its patrons. In all of my library experience, I have never seen such a supportive community. It is indeed what makes this place special. Every day, working here feels like coming home: comforting, warm and surrounded by things I love. Thank you all for that.
So now I will take some time to travel and pursue other interests in my extended “gap” year. Perhaps the road will lead back to library service in a different way: as a volunteer, part-time staff member or even a library board member. A love of literature and learning has always been a part of my life and I am so grateful that I was able to make it into a wonderful career.
It is very hard to turn this page in my life, but I am told the next chapter is when things really get good. All my best to you, New Hope and Solebury and keep on reading!
Connie Hillman, Library Director
GROUNDHOG DAY—-February , 2023
Well, Punxatawney Phil, the famous groundhog weather predictor, saw his shadow and thus predicted an additional 6 weeks of winter. Even though this is not necessarily unexpected, you could almost hear the collective moaning from Gobbler’s Knoll. As this weekend’s temperatures plummet, it’s hard not to be reminded of why people complain about winter. The dark day, cold temperatures and fear of ice and snow are no fun for many and cause us to pine for the lazy, hazy, days of summer.
But Mother Nature knows what she is doing. All seasons have a purpose and a beauty. In her book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times author Katherine May invites readers to delve into the amazing restorative properties of the winter season. The shorter days and colder temperatures direct us inward and take us to a place where our souls can take the time to restore and rejuvenate. It is nature’s way of forcing us to slow down and savor the small things while living in the moment. It is in the winter that we truly come to appreciate the heat of a fire on the hearth, the sweetness of a cup of hot cocoa that warms the core, and the shorter days that turn us inward to simpler activities such as reading or enjoying the company of family and friends.
It’s my opinion that the best place to “winter” is at the public library and I don’t think I am alone in this sentiment. While many of our patrons routinely pay us quick visits to pick up their holds, there are those who linger to savor the space. Every day we have patrons sitting at table to work in the peace only a library can give, children lingering in the kids’ room reading with their parents and maybe making a friend or two, and students after working on projects or being tutored. It is a warm, happy time for all of our staff members, as well.
Consider visiting the library during the winter months. Enjoy working in our space and maybe take a book to two home with you. After all, there is nothing better tham curling up with a cup of tea and a good book on a frosty day.
May this year’s wintering be a peaceful time for you all.
WHAT’S THE BUZZ ABOUT SPELLING BEES?—August, 2022
After a two-year hiatus, the Free Library of New Hope and Solebury’s Spelling Bee is returning to challenge Bucks County super spellers in a fun-filled evening of community and camaraderie. While this is overall a fundraiser for the library, we hope it will also go a long way in helping to bring people together after two years of anxiety and separation. It turns out that “Bees” have a way of doing just that.
While we often think of a “bee” as an insect, it’s actually much more. The term is derived from the Old English ” bēn” meaning a prayer or favor. By the late eighteenth century, bee had become commonly associated with the British dialect form, been or bean, referring to the joining of neighbors to work on a single activity to help a neighbor in need: sewing bee, husking bee, quilting bee—and for the library’s purposes, a spelling bee!
Spelling Bees became very popular in the 19th century (once Noah Webster helped to standardize spelling in the United States). Not only were these challenges for school students, but community events that brought folks together for an evening of simple, yet enjoyable entertainment. All you needed were some willing spellers and people to cheer them on.
We have our place and date: October 7 at 7pm at the New Hope Solebury High School auditorium (how fitting to hold this in a school!). We have our teams of spellers. Now all we need is an audience. To keep this community-friendly, we’re not selling tickets, but simply asking for a free-will donation at the door. We’re looking forward to a great evening!
Our library has a very long history of bringing the people of New Hope and Solebury together. Come and support your friends and neighbors and have fun!
“UKRAINIAN LIBRARIANS, I SALUTE YOU!”—March, 2022
The third decade of the 21st century has not gotten off to a very good start. After two years of dealing with a worldwide pandemic, we are now faced with another potential global disaster as a war escalates in Ukraine.
A recent tweet from Nicholas Poole, CEO of the CILIP, the United Kingdom’s library and information association, showcased the resolve and steadfastness of all the Ukrainian people as he quoted a message from the Ukrainian Library Association:
“Bloody hell. Looking at a message from the Ukraine Library Association concerning the cancellation of their forthcoming conference. it basically says “We will reschedule just as soon as we have finished vanquishing our invaders”. Ukrainian Librarians, I salute you!”
Libraries have often been called a refuge from the craziness of the world, but the Ukrainian librarians have taken this to a whole new level. I visited the Ukrainian Library Association’s webpage and started to follow them on social media. Libraries throughout the country converted to bomb shelters and hospitals with librarians tending to the needs of their patrons by giving first aid, food, warmth and comfort. All the while, their mission to connect their public to accurate information remains at the forefront as they work to continue to pass on important news from public services to the people.
Librarians are known for their friendliness and willingness to help others and a crisis brings out the best in them. Libraries all over Europe have jumped in with a helping hand, offering assistance to Ukrainian refugees in a number of ways from issuing temporary library cards, assisting in navigating the internet and locating temporary shelter. Their question is the same universal questions all librarians ask their patrons. “How can I help?”
“How can I help?” is a question most people are asking themselves these days. After all, no one wants a war. Below is a list of organizations aiding the humanitarian effort in Ukraine that are accepting donations:
- Ukrainian Red Cross
- International Committee of the Red Cross
- United Way’s United for Ukraine Fund
- International Rescue Committee
- Save the Children
- UN Refugee Agency
I pray for peace. I pray for the safety of civilians. I pray for the preservation of knowledge, information and culture.
Ukrainian librarians, I too salute you.
DELTA STRAIN, WHY’D YOU HAVE TO BE SUCH A PAIN?—-August, 2021
Well it was nice while it lasted. It’s hard to believe that a few short weeks ago things were looking (dare we say it?) relatively normal. Covid cases dropped, vaccines became more readily available, and, glory of glories, the fully vaccinated were finally able to drop their masks. Then the Delta strain of coronavirus came along and started wreaking havoc everywhere. Just how effective are the vaccines against this new strain? What are breakthrough cases and why are they happening? Do the benefits of a Covid vaccine outway the concerns of a vaccine that has only been authorized for emergency use? Should we or should we not get vaccinated? Every day, our newsfeeds are filled with stories ranging from doom and deeath of the unvaccinated to the unknown yet fearful fate of the vaccinated. We are left confused, distrustful, frustrated and desperate for answers.
As a public librarian, it is not my job to tell people what to do, but rather to provide the reliable information to help my patrons make the best possible choices for themselves and their families. Below is a list of reliable resources regarding the Covid-19 vaccines. If you or someone you know is considering getting a vaccine, please explore the websites below. These are vetted, reliable medical websites providing information on the vaccines. If you have further questions, please ask your family doctor. Now more than ever, it is time to put aside the politics, opinions and social media and get the facts, so that you can make a wise decision. Be well.
THE BEE BUZZES BACK—July, 2021
Yesterday we watched in amazement as 14-year-old Zaila Avant-Garde spelled her way to win the 2021 Scripps Spelling Bee. The winning word was Murraya (phonetically pronounced “muh-ree-yuh”) which is defined as “a genus belonging to the Rutaceae family, a citrus family of flowering plants.” I never heard of it, let alone ever had an occasion to pronounce it. I would have found myself sitting down at the event long before this introduction of this word, so kudos to Zaila and all of the other young super spellers. But did you ever wonder what spelling has to do with bees?
According to the internet, the word bee historically has been used to describe a get-together for communal work, like a husking bee or a quilting bee. The word bee probably comes from dialectal been or bean, meaning “help given by neighbors.”
Spelling bees originated in the United States in the 1800s as a way to motivate students to learn standardized spelling and were organized locally through towns and schools. The first National Spelling Bee was held in 1925 in Washington D.C. and since then the activity has expanded to other countries and other age groups. However, no matter how large or elaborate the event becomes, the heart of every spelling bee is a celebration of scholarship and community.
The Library’s Community Spelling Bee returns on October 1. We invite you to “bee” a part of it—-form a team, sponsor a team or come to the event and cheer on the spellers. It’s a great event that help supports a great community service and a wonderful way to reconnect with your friends and neighbors. See you at the Bee!
A YEAR OF WONDER—June, 2021
Several years ago, I read the Geraldine Brooks book by the above title, A Year of Wonders: A Journal of the Plague Year. The book itself focuses on a small village in England that finds itself infested with the bubonic plague of 1666. The impulse, of course is to run, but instead the village very woke minister convinces his flock that they could help mitigate the spread by hunkering down and trying to contain the plague to their village. It is a rough year, filled with fear, illness, death, arguing and people breaking the rules. But there is an ending.
Fast forward 354 years later. History is repeating itself. Over the past year during the Covid-19 pandemic, we feared. We grieved. We fought. We held our breath as we bet on science to come up with a treatment, a vaccine or something. We turned our everyday lives on their heads as we tried to function normally in a totally abnormal way.
Pennsylvania Governor Wolf will be lifting the mask mandate on June 28 as will the library. The coronavirus cases are down. Vaccines are now available. It’s time to come out of our sleepy little cocoon and resume our normal lives.
But it’s impossible to go through a catastrophic event like a pandemic without changing. The library has changed as well. We learned the value and convenience of virtual programming and the ability to reach wider audiences. We coached a number of patrons who never touched an e-reader through the process and opened up doors to an entirely new way of reading filled with variety and convenience. But above all, we learned the value of community and the importance of our link in that chain. Our services have been called a “lifeline” and a “respite” for those isolated from family and friends. While we stayed in touch with smiles behind masks during curbside deliveries and telephone conversations, it is an absolute pleasure for us to actually “see” our patrons and families coming into the building again. Coming back to a place where everyone really does know your name.
This is one more chapter in our library’s history. I’ve been keeping a file—a primer, if you will—for the next librarian that needs to pilot this ship through another crisis. A documentation of how we functioned during this time that will probably stay safely tucked away until the library’s bicentennial (or, heaven forbid, the next pandemic!). Amid all the signs and invoices for masks, hand sanitizer and plexiglass, it is my hope that the future will see a proud heart that kept beating strong and did its part to keep the community connected during this wild and crazy time.