Signing out: Devoted director Marjorie Convery

Marjorie Convery
Marjorie Convery in her office at the Vineyard Haven Public Library. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Heather Curtis - October 25, 2007

The Vineyard Haven Library is a far cry from the small building with avocado and orange chairs that housed the books when Marjorie Convery took over as Library Director in 1990. Since then, the library has been renovated and remodeled, become part of a vast network allowing inter-library loans called Clams, and gone wireless. While Ms. Convery played a lead role in facilitating these improvements, she is quick to credit the hard work of many people for making the library what it is today. As Ms. Convery prepares to retire, she remembers those early days at the library.

When Ms. Convery, a native Islander, first came to the library, she knew she had a lot of work ahead of her. After spending 10 years away from libraries to raise her two children, she thought she would be behind the times. But to her surprise, "They were still doing things in the very old-fashioned way." The library didn't have any computers, forcing the staff to type catalogue cards by hand. Rolodexes with people's names and addresses were used along with punch cards to keep track of who had which book out at any given time. And the building, which seemed to be stuck in the 1960s both technologically and stylistically, was too small.

Chris and Gavin Dowley with Marjorie Convery
Library patrons Chris (left) and Gavin Dowley with the library director, Marjorie Convery.

Before coming to the library, Ms. Convery had served as a high school and college librarian in Ohio and a law school librarian in addition to holding a degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Maryland. She used her extensive library experience to start making changes.

"When I came, the first thing I did was ask the board, because I work for a board of trustees, could we buy a couple of computers for the library?" The board seemed confused, asking Ms. Convery why she needed a computer in the library.

Despite their reservations, the board allowed her to buy two small Apple computers, which she promptly put to use in place of the old card catalogues. The computers came just in time for the library to become part of a new system for inter-library loans called Clams, which is a consortium of 33 libraries.

"We just thought, oh my goodness, this is going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread because all of a sudden you would be linked to all these other libraries," Ms. Convery says as the large turtle earrings she wears jiggle on her ears. The system not only has not only made inter-library loans faster and more efficient, but it gives cardholders access to two million items from many libraries.

Marjorie Convery and Helene Barr
Marjorie helps Helene Barr (right) at one of the library computers.

But the biggest change Ms. Convery orchestrated was expanding the library from 9,000 to 12,000 square feet.

"The building was interfering basically with what we were trying to do because you didn't have enough plugs to even plug things in," Ms. Convery remembers. So in 1994, she started a project that would prove to be tedious and frustrating but well worth the effort.

Construction didn't start until 1998. When it did, the building was gutted, forcing rooms, books and staff to be shuffled and moved as a new section was added and the old one renovated. Then the library had to close for six months while construction crews put the two sections together.

"Harder than any technology was the moving, you know, because you think moving your own house is hard, and when you're moving a building and books and everything, it's so heavy," Ms. Convery says, dangling a loafer off her foot.

But when the building re-opened in 2000, Ms. Convery realized it was worth the trouble.

"We have a beautiful building now, and really it moved us into the 21st century," she says, admiring how well the building has held up. Still, despite all of her work, Ms. Convery isn't taking the credit. "It was a huge effort of lots and lots of different people. I'm proud of what we all accomplished, it wasn't just me."

Wendy Andrews and Marjorie Convery
Wendy Andrews (left) and Marjorie behind the circulation desk.

And it's this attitude that has won Ms. Convery many friends at the library. Reference Librarian Cecily Greenaway won't forget her help and expertise. "She's been a wonderful person to work with, and we'll miss her terribly."

Inter-Library Loan Librarian Wendy Andrews agrees. "It will be very strange here without her," she says.

"She's been wonderful," says Marilyn Wortman, Vice Chairman of the library's Board of Trustees, who formerly served three years as the chairman of the board.

When asked what she thinks her legacy will be, Ms. Convery laughs hard. "I'm like George Bush. I have a legacy." She pauses for a moment and continues, "I hope that will be my legacy, just to leave the library a very welcoming place."

As for her replacement, a seven-member search committee has been appointed by the board of trustees to find a new Library Director. They hope to choose a candidate by late December.

Ms. Convery's colleagues know it will be different without her kind, knowledgeable presence. Ms. Wortman, who's on the search committee, says they'll be looking for someone who not only has library experience but who will also fit into the community well.

As for Ms. Convery, after her last day at the library on Nov. 2, she is headed to Hudson, Fla., where she plans to work with an animal shelter and oversee operations for Habitat for Humanity.

A retirement celebration for Marjorie Convery will be held on Friday, Oct. 26, from 3 to 5:30 pm, at the Vineyard Haven Public Library on Main Street. For more information, call 508-696-4211.

Heather Curtis is a contributing writer to The Times.