MORRILL MEMORIAL LIBRARY

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clayton-cheever

Introducing Our New Director

clayton-cheeverI’ve recently learned that Norwood is proud to be the town that everyone returns to. This resonates with me for many reasons as I begin my relationship with what is clearly a very special place.

The very first time I visited the Morrill Memorial Library I discovered what I considered a very good sign – my name, in stone, on the side of the building. No, not Cheever (and while I am related to John Cheever, my uncle John is a chemical engineer, not a novelist). The name I had to take a selfie underneath is Clay. Perhaps I’ll write more in the future about Henry Clay (1777-1852), the “Great Compromiser”, but today I want to introduce you to me.

I was born in Denver, Colorado, and my son is the fourth generation in my patrilineage born in the Mile High city. This is not an insignificant presence in a city that has been growing exponentially for much longer than I have been alive. My grandfather would tell stories of going camping and swimming in natural swimming holes in places I couldn’t ever conceptualize because a neighborhood has been there my entire life. He was born in a home that was later torn down and is now the site of a gas station (very romantic, I know).

I first moved east to go to college in the Hudson Valley, just north of New York City. I was fortunate to be admitted to Vassar College where I enjoyed a fabulous education. I also got very accustomed to telling people that it stopped being an all-women’s college in 1969 (after declining an invitation to merge with Yale). I majored in geography because I love learning about people and how we relate to each other across space. I also was involved in a good amount of student activism and upon graduation I moved to Austin Texas to be the Assistant Director for the U.S. PIRG office there. The Public Interest Research Groups are a federation of U.S. and Canadian non-profit organizations that employ grassroots organizing and direct advocacy on issues such as consumer protection, public health and transportation, and were founded by Ralph Nader in 1984.

I became disenamored with the PIRGs pretty quickly and returned to Denver with my best friend Jackie DeLisi, who I’ve now been married to for an incredible 25 years. There were certainly many familiar elements of Denver that I returned to, but it was starting to change in significant ways. The new baseball stadium (Coors field) was at the center of a rapidly growing part of town known as LoDo. Overpasses were being torn down and daylight shining for the first time in decades upon streets where my friends and I used to hurry through before dancing at Rock Island and drinking lots of coffee at Paris on the Platte. Jackie and I bought a home in a neighborhood on the Northwest side of town that still had a large immigrant community – and was only a few blocks from the home where my grandparents lived when my father was very young. In the intervening years a freeway had split the neighborhood and the Italian and Eastern European community had heavily transformed with lots of immigrants from Mexico and points further south in the Americas.

In Denver I worked for fair housing, directed the Denver Community Reinvestment Association, worked for some lawyers while contemplating law school, developed my IT skills, served on some nonprofit boards, and joined a start-up medical research company that was based in the pathology lab of an old army hospital. That hospital has since been torn down, and the company I worked for is itself long gone. Jackie got a Masters in Education and taught middle school kids science, math, and whatever else was needed. When we learned we were to become parents we evaluated our lives and decided that we wanted to enable her to pursue a doctoral degree in education. We benefited from family connections at Boston University and moved east together with our six-month old son. I came to appreciate the incredible history of public libraries in this country, and the power of public libraries in general after being inspired by a profile of a radical librarian in a magazine I happened to pick up. I quickly came to realize that I needed to pursue a career as a librarian, and enrolled at Simmons College (now Simmons University), the only accredited graduate school for library and information science in Massachusetts. It was quite convenient, as I was working by that time at the Harvard School of Public Health in Longwood, just down the street, so I was able to walk to night classes while maintaining full-time employment to support my family.

While working at Harvard and going to school I also was working occasional shifts at the Watertown Free Public Library (WFPL), where we were renting when we first arrived in the state. Upon graduating, the opportunity arose to become the head of Information Technology and Technical Services at WFPL. After a few years I decided I wanted to work for Boston Public Library, where we had moved. I enjoyed being a teen librarian in Hyde Park and Mattapan, and then joined the management team and worked out of the main library in Copley Square. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and could have easily stayed, if not for the opportunity to become the Assistant Director of the Thomas Crane Public Library in Quincy. This is a magnificent library with a great team of people working in it – lots of similarities with the Morrill Memorial Library! I was there for a fast seven and a half years, and never had a moment of boredom. 

It is with great anticipation that I join the Norwood community to lead this beautiful library. I’ve gone to school with, worked alongside, appreciated the professional contributions to the greater field of library science, and appreciated the friendship of many of the current and past Norwood librarians over the years and it is a delight to have this opportunity to join them here. 

When I fly west to Colorado to visit family and friends (something I’m greatly looking forward to doing again after this pandemic is over!) I love being there, but it no longer feels like I’m returning. The Denver I grew up with and the Denver I lived in as an adult have both grown leaps and bounds since then. I have also grown and today I see things with different eyes than with a different perspective than I ever had before. (My kids will point out that my eyes are literally different – that’s why I needed a new prescription for my glasses!)

I am incredibly indebted to all the people who I’ve worked alongside, all the community members I’ve partnered with, my dear friends who have joined me on many excellent adventures, and above all my amazing family, my best friend Jackie and our two wonderful teenagers. Our furry, four-legged friends deserve a shout-out as well. I’m proud of my history, and incredibly excited to learn what the future holds.

Clayton Cheever is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for his article in the March 4, 2021 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

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