NEWFANE—“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,” the Argentine author and poet Jorge Luis Borges once wrote.
Meris Morrison, the librarian at the Moore Free Library for the past 12 years, wouldn’t disagree with Borges. She’s been living in a paradise of books all her life.
After a half-century as a librarian, Morrison is saying goodbye to her professional life of reading and the joy of discovery. She is retiring on Sept. 16, but not before her friends and colleagues celebrate her 75th birthday with a party at the library on Sept. 7, from 1-3 p.m.
This is Morrison’s second retirement. The first one came in 1993, when she was the library director at the Brooks Memorial Library. After 18 years at Brooks, she decided at age 55 that she wanted to paint.
That retirement lasted only seven years. In 2001, Moore Free Library needed a librarian, and Morrison fell in love with the cozy little library that started out its life as a home just a few hundred feet away from the county courthouse and tree-shaded common.
Moore Free Library, donated to the town by Mrs. Philura C. Moore in 1898, is a private library that relies on donations and lots of volunteers to keep running.
Morrison said the library has been fortunate to have so many generous benefactors, including Robert Crowell, a book publisher who bequeathed a large sum of money which enabled the construction of an addition and an art gallery to the original building.
She doesn’t like talking about herself, but on a recent Friday afternoon, Morrison spent a little bit of time looking back over her lifelong love of books.
Deep in the heart of Texas
Born in Kansas, Morrison moved to Texas when was very young. Her family lived in Greens Bayou, a small town not far from Houston, where there was no neighborhood library.
“Once a week, the bookmobile arrived at our school, and I was usually the last one to leave the mobile,” she said.
Various schoolteachers got her excited about the written word, and when she needed more than her little school and the bookmobile could offer, she tagged along with her mother when she went on her Saturday trips to Houston.
“Mom dropped me off at the main library while she went shopping downtown,” Morrison said.
The hours she spent deep in the stacks gave her a deep appreciation for what she called “those secret, unplanned moments” when a book is discovered, opened, and devoured.
She went to Indiana University as an undergraduate, and started working in the university’s library, rearranging its folklore department.
“Computers were still new, and big as a room,” she said, remembering the difficulties of feeding punch cards into a finicky machine. She would go on earn a master of library science degree from Indiana University.
She married Donald P. Eggert after graduation, and followed her husband to Southern Illinois University, where she ended up working in that college’s library. They raised two children, Mark and Kristen.
Morrison said her husband, a professor of geography, was involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and frequently was away.
Their careers started diverging, and they ultimately divorced, she said. Eggert remarried. He died last year in Georgia at 76.
Morrison ended up back in Houston, at Texas Southern University. She said that, despite growing up in a racially segregated environment, “I wanted to see everyone have access to an equal education. I still feel very strongly about that.”
Being at a historically black college such as Texas Southern during the 1960s reinforced her sentiments about educational equality. She later served on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. That brought her to New England and what would be her happiest days as a librarian.
Getting to Vermont
Morrison never planned on being a librarian in Vermont, but in the 1970s, a chance visit to the state library in Montpelier led to a library post in Bennington.
“The state librarian recommended me,” she said. “I talked with him during my visit, and that was enough for him to give me a recommendation for the Bennington job.”
Not long after that, the librarian position at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro opened up.
She started at Brooks in the late 1970s and became library director in 1980. Her reference librarian at the time was Jerry Carbone, the man who ultimately succeed Morrison.
“Jerry was really good with computers, and I could see that they would become more important to libraries as time went on,” Morrison said. “I had a great job, but I thought it was a good idea to have somebody with a new outlook. Librarians ought to change jobs every 10 years or so, so they don’t get stuck in a rut.”
By the time Morrison retired in 1993, she was honored with the prestigious Sarah C. Hagar Award, given annually by the Vermont Library Association for outstanding service in or significant contribution to the field of librarianship in Vermont.
During that time, she earned a master’s degree from Antioch New England Graduate School in organizational management.
Morrison said she wanted to retire in her 50s, and might have stayed retired had not the position at Moore Free Library opened up.
“Newfane is a great community, and I feel blessed to be here,” she said. “The volunteers have been wonderful and the support for our programs has been great.”
With a second chance at retirement, Morrison said she wants to paint more — and, of course, to read.
“There are stacks of books in my bedroom,” she said. “My son thinks I’m a hoarder, but it’s only books. I may never have time to read them all, but the thought of having them around pleases me.”