Bristol library celebrates its centennial

BRISTOL — The new year marks Bristol’s Lawrence Memorial Library’s 100th birthday, and to celebrate, the library is throwing itself parties all year long.
In 1911, local businessman and Addison County Sheriff William Lawrence gave the building at 40 North St. to the town for just one dollar. Lawrence dedicated the library to his two deceased wives, Minnie Peet Lawrence and Lockie Partch Lawrence.
At the time, Lawrence thought the library to be “not an elaborate affair, but it is substantial, plain, modest, like the characters and lives of those whose memory this new home for the library is to commemorate.”
Over the course of the last century, the library has undergone a series of renovations, though it still maintains much of its original character, according to director Nancy Wilson.
Wilson took up her post nearly 20 years ago at the Lawrence Memorial Library, and just in those last 20 years, she said, things have changed significantly.
“I’ve seen lots of changes,” Wilson said. “There were no computers when I arrived, and we’re now completely computerized and have a number of computers for public use.”
According to Wilson, a number of people from Bristol and the surrounding towns frequent the library for its wireless Internet access. Wilson hedged a guess that the wireless had been installed in 2004.
“It was a really long time ago,” she said. “We were one of the first places to get it.”
Along with heading up the library staff, Wilson is also one of three original members of the e-Vermont grant committee. Since the Bristol community was awarded the grant earlier this year, Wilson has continued to play an active role in the downtown wireless project.
In addition to the library’s Internet and computer services, it also offers members free passes to museums and historical sites — a program that Wilson says is fairly uncommon among libraries.
“We’re constantly finding ways that we can stand out and anticipate the needs of the community,” she said. “It’s kind of fun to surprise people and keep us a little more vibrant rather than just a place where we keep dusty books and things. This way we can offer a more direct service.”
 Wilson hopes that through the various events that the library will be holding in 2011 in honor of its birthday, the library will be able to connect with and serve the community to an even greater extent.
“We’re really just trying to stay relevant,” Wilson said.
For the staff, board members and volunteers of the Lawrence Memorial Library, the theme of 2011 will be “A Century of Stories,” in honor of the library’s 100th birthday.
Early in 2010, members of the staff and board joined together to begin brainstorming how they would commemorate such a significant milestone. Board member Mary Ellen Sessa suggested that they plan several different events, rather than have just one big blowout.
Sessa then became a member of the Centennial Planning Committee, formed especially for the purpose of planning the events that they decided to hold once a month for the entire year.
“The events are spread out across the year and try to join in with other things that are happening in the community,” planning committee head Jill Mackler said. “They are all actually quite different or somewhat different from each other. Our goal was to make this a meaningful anniversary celebration for all members of the Bristol community and surrounding communities.”
Examples of events include a cooking demonstration and potluck in February to coincide with the release of the library’s centennial cookbook, and a gala dinner and dance at Mary’s Inn on Baldwin Creek in June.
The centennial celebrations will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 11, with a day of “entertainment, munchies, punch and party favors.” The favors are bookmarks created by Bristol students especially for the occasion. Students from all grades at the Bristol Elementary School will be attending the Jan. 11 celebration, according to Mackler.
During the day, children’s librarian Marita Bathe-Schine will perform story times and readings along with Mike Gleason  to entertain Bristol Elementary students and other visitors. Meanwhile, students from area schools will team up with local musician Will Parini and residents of the Living Well residential care home to perform background music for the event.
The daytime activities will transition into evening with entertainment by the BASK Readers’ Theater Group at around 5 p.m., followed by reminiscences about the library from long-time Bristol readers.
From 6 to 7 p.m., a formal birthday party will begin with cake, cupcakes and punch and with music by Ken Weston.
“We really wanted to make this a wonderful celebration of what we’re calling a ‘Century of Stories’ celebration of this incredible gift to the town of this beautiful library,” Mackler said.
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].

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