At 100, librarian’s life is an open book

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff0
July 23, 2008

GUILFORD — Surrounded by friends, family and colleagues, Edith Nettleton celebrated her 100th birthday Tuesday at the place where she has spent much of her adult life — the Guilford Free Library.

Tuesday’s party could not take place at the main Park Street library, where Nettleton became the first librarian in 1934. The building is under construction and due to reopen in early September.

But that didn’t stop well-wishers from filling the temporary library on Carter Drive for the occasion.

The party — which included punch and her requested chocolate cake and coffee ice cream — was one of four in the past few days for Nettleton, whose birthday was Tuesday.

“It’s overwhelming,” Nettleton said of the party. “It’s lovely.”

She started working at the library 75 years ago, and retired from her role as library director in 1978. Since then, she has continued as a volunteer librarian, often working on special projects on Guilford history or genealogy.

She can still be found at the library a few days a week, where the main reading room — the Edith B. Nettleton Historical Room — is named for her.

Many townspeople remember Nettleton as the helpful librarian who guided them through history projects and book reports.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said he met Nettleton when he was a kindergartener. When he was in seventh grade, she helped him research the history of the Guilford unit of the Connecticut National Guard.

“She was always so sweet and so supportive — she was so encouraging to kids using the library,” Balestracci said. “I’m doing a research project now on African-American history in Guilford … and guess who’s helping me research it? She’s over at the temporary library and she’s digging out all kinds of books for me to get information and everything.”

At the party, Balestracci read a proclamation from the Board of Selectmen making Tuesday Edith Nettleton Day in thanks for the “many contributions she has made to our quality of life in Guilford.”

Library Director Sandra Ruoff called Tuesday a “thrilling day for us.”

“Next year, we’ll have her 101st in the renovated library at 67 Park St.,” Ruoff told the party guests.

Ruoff said before the party that Nettleton has continued to work as a volunteer during the library’s stay in the temporary building, where it moved last year. The Park Street building’s Edith B. Nettleton Historical Room, the original part of the library, will remain largely the same, Ruoff said, with only the addition of new windows and lights.

“She’s a lovely person and she’s a very dedicated and professional librarian,” Ruoff said. “She will research something until she gets the answer. She probably helped five generations of Guilford citizens as they used the library from 1933 ‘til now.”

In addition to her work at the library, Nettleton is co-historian with her sister-in-law, Ruth Nettleton, for the First Congregational Church. The church, where she has been a member for more than 80 years, also held a celebration for her after Sunday services July 13.

Senior Minister Kendrick Norris described Nettleton as a “real worker” in researching the history of the nearly 370-year-old church.

“She has done an amazing job,” Norris said. “Our church goes back to 1639, so, you know, she has found this stuff, she’s saved the stuff, she’s preserved the stuff, she’s catalogued the stuff and she’s indexed it three different ways. She’s usually still in once a week to do work on all our historical things.”

Norris used words like “humble,” “unassuming” and “understated” to describe the longtime librarian.

“The bottom line is, she’s great and everyone loves her,” he said. “She does have a twinkle in her eye and she’s a very special lady.”

Nettleton was born in Washington, Conn., July 22, 1908. When she was a child, her family moved to a farm on Clapboard Hill Road in Guilford. Today, she lives in a house on the same street.

She graduated from high school in Guilford and earned a degree as a librarian in Springfield, Mass., before returning to Guilford to begin working for the library in 1933. She was the first librarian at the Park Street facility, which opened in 1934.

In addition to her sister-in-law, she has a sister who also lives in Guilford.

Nettleton said that reaching her 100th birthday did not make her feel any different.

“You get up and wake up in the morning — it’s just like any other day,” she said of Tuesday. “You’re thankful you can do it.”

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