Having a father as an avid reader helped Nancy Dunbar discover her love of books as a high schooler. It was her passion for reading that led her to major in English and minor in library science and pursue her career as a library professional.
Dunbar, who was named the first Cambridge Public Library branch librarian on Feb. 2, 2009, will be retiring on Sept. 13, her birthday, completing over a 25-year career with the Cambridge Public Library, part of the East Central Regional Library System.
In honor of Dunbar’s retirement, the Cambridge Friends of the Library are hosting a reception from 4:30-6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, in the lower level of the library at 244 Birch St. S. The public is invited to come and celebrate Dunbar’s many years as the Cambridge branch librarian.
Dunbar first started at the library right out of college, working the front desk for 2 1/2 years. She also served as the library’s first reference assistant for another 2 1/2 years.
“Working for the library was definitely the right call,” Dunbar said. “I became more of a reader in high school; I was more of an outside kid when I was younger. But I loved books and my dad always was an avid reader.”
Dunbar will be missed at the Cambridge Library.
“Nancy has worked at the Cambridge Library for well over 20 years in multiple roles, serving as the branch librarian since 2009,” said Carla Lydon, executive director of the East Central Regional Library System. “Nancy’s dedication to the library, to books and reading has shown throughout the years. She played a key role on the city task force to build a new library and has educated and entertained countless children at her popular preschool storytimes. Her leadership over the years has been an integral part of the success of the Cambridge Community Wide Reads. We want to thank Nancy for her years of service and commitment to East Central Regional Library and the Cambridge community and wish her all the best in her retirement.”
Dunbar will miss coming to the library every day.
“I’ve always wanted to be available to the younger families — that was really my passion,” Dunbar said. “I always had a goal of making the library patron-focused; this is their library. I always tried to be staff-focused as well. I feel I had a good relationship with staff and gave them opportunities to do things they enjoy and think we really have a great team.”
With a new Cambridge Library and East Central Regional Library Headquarters building tentatively set to open in mid-May, Dunbar contemplated pushing back her retirement to be a part of the new building opening, but decided against it.
“I decided I would let my replacement handle the planning of the new library and decide how they want to run things; I thought it would be selfish of me to take that experience away from them,” Dunbar said. “Just the fact the community is getting a new library is very exciting. But it was a hard decision to not be a part of the opening, since I’ve been working on getting a new library since I was named the Cambridge branch librarian. But just knowing the community is getting a new library is good enough for me.”
Dunbar took pride in having positive relationships with other community organizations, especially with the owner of the local bookstore, Scout & Morgan Books.
“Not every librarian understands the value of joining forces with their local bookstore to serve the reading and literacy programming in their community,” said Judith Kissner, owner of Scout & Morgan Books. “Other bookstore owners express envy and often ask me for advice on how to foster this kind of relationship with their local library. It starts with having a great librarian like Nancy who loves her community and cares deeply about every patron who walks through her door. She looks beyond the walls of the library to find common interests and shared goals throughout the community.
“It has been a real pleasure to work with Nancy on the Cambridge Community Wide Read Committee and other library initiatives. I am grateful to have been given that opportunity. She leaves behind some big shoes to fill,” Kissner said.
Dunbar has lived in the Cambridge community since the mid-1980s and will continue to do so following her retirement. She lives in the home her late husband built for their family. While her oldest son lives in Arizona, her youngest son continues to live with her and works in the Cambridge community.
“I decided to retire now because I’m eligible for the Rule of 90, but I also just need more time at home,” Dunbar said. “I have a lot of work to do around the house and want more time to take care of my elderly mother. I also want to travel more and will visit my oldest son in Arizona in October. I also have a bunch of quilting supplies I’ve never used, so I’m looking forward to monthly quilting gatherings with my sisters.”
While Dunbar was excited to be named the Cambridge Library’s first branch librarian on Feb. 2, 2009, her husband, Paul, passed away two days later unexpectedly of a heart attack.
“I knew the inner-workings of the library, so I wasn’t starting something totally new to me, but the job as branch librarian served to be a great distraction during that time,” Dunbar said. “But it was hard. My husband and I had four duplexes at the time that we managed, so I suddenly became in charge of all these rental properties.”
Dunbar’s dedication to the library has not gone unnoticed.
“I have known and been associated with Nancy through the Friends of the Library for about 10 years,” said Karen Lee with the Friends of the Library. “It has been a pleasure to support her dedication to making everyone welcome at the library and her creativity in providing fun and interesting programs and activities for children, teens and adults. Nancy will be missed, but I wish her well as she begins the new adventure that is retirement.”
Dunbar said she has seen her share of changes over the years and talked about utilizing a card catalog to keep track of the items in the library and filing them each day in alphabetical order. She also recalls technology being upgraded to a microfiche system and then to a DOS operating system that was used for IBM PC compatibles.
“There was a time we had to use a mimeograph machine, a hand-cranking type of machine, to make copies,” Dunbar said. “I had all sort of different tools to do my job when first starting out. Now everything is online. The internet first came out when I was working as the reference librarian.”
Dunbar was very active on the Cambridge Community Wide Read Committee.
“I have worked with Nancy as a board member of the Cambridge Public Library and on the Cambridge Community Wide Read Committee,” Jan Wheelock said. “She has impressed me as a person who will carry through to the finest detail any assignment she takes on. She is multi-talented in communications, creativity and commitment. Nancy has been a pleasure to work with because she always gets the job done and done well. We will miss her at the library but are happy she is planning to continue on the Cambridge Community Wide Read Committee.”
Dunbar will especially miss working with the children and their families.
“I think I will miss storytime the most,” Dunbar said. “The kids who come in are just so sweet and fun, and storytime gets them excited about being in the library. Getting them excited about reading is so vitally important.”
While Dunbar’s days at the library are winding down, she’s been busy getting her office ready for her replacement, going through files and cleaning out storage areas.
“I’m in love with this community, so I don’t plan on going anywhere right now,” Dunbar said. “I’ve met some many wonderful people through my time at the library and feel very proud of what we have all accomplished together.”