CHELMSFORD — To be a good librarian, you have to be pretty well-read — that’s a given. But to be a great one, you have to show tremendous care and encourage others to read as much as you do.
By all accounts, Becky Herrmann was a great librarian. She served as the director of the Chelmsford Public Library since 2001.
Herrmann, a Lunenburg native, passed away after an eight-month battle with an illness on Dec. 22. She was 62 years old.
Since her passing, colleagues recalled Herrmann’s profound impact on the lives of residents, families and themselves through her passionate work, expertise and willingness to help others.
Herrmann established One Book Chelmsford, a yearly reading program in which participants across the community all read the same book, freely distributed by the library, and authors visit for a discussion on the book. Since 2007, selected books have spanned all genres, from classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 2008 to “Shutter Island” and “The Hunger Games” in 2010 and 2011 — as a fan of thrillers, Herrmann must have been pleased with those two picks.
That push for greater involvement and accessibility led Herrmann to, in 2017, create the Marjorie Scoboria Greenway, an outdoor space filled with plants, artwork, benches and a stone-crafted reading circle.
Before coming to Chelmsford, Herrmann served as the director of the Hopkinton, N.H. Town Library and worked at libraries across the region, starting as a library page at only 17 years old, according to her obituary.
For many who worked with her, Herrmann was less of a boss and more of a close friend and confidant.
President of the Chelmsford Friends of the Library Maureen Foley, also the library’s longtime head of children’s services who retired six years ago, recalls forming an early bond with Herrmann over their shared background in children’s books. Herrmann, Foley said, spent much of her career as a children’s librarian, so she became somewhat of a mentor for Foley as she was starting out.
Each week, Herrmann brought innovative, creative and thoughtful ideas for improving the library and its services to department meetings — Foley said she “always thought big” and considered the public’s needs, no matter how big. From remodeling their basement level to create more study spaces, to throwing parties during Winterfest, to establishing yearslong programs, Herrmann provided “visionary service” to Chelmsford, Foley said.
Her attention to her patrons and staffers was unmatched, Foley said, and she encouraged many residents to turn into library regulars by encouraging their reading habits.
“She had a sense of magic and wonder and music, and our programming was spectacular,” Foley said. “All these things are not just Becky, they are things that she integrated into the way that we do business. So, she’s got a legacy going on.”
Herrmann also helped start the pop-up library to bring books across the town, Foley said, as well as a cable television show for children, where staffers spend 30 minutes reading stories to young kids every evening of the week.
Herrmann was also a mentor to then-“baby librarian” Vickie Turcotte, now the acting co-director of the library, who worked alongside Herrmann for more than two decades. Over those years, Turcotte said, Herrmann taught her how to “treat people with empathy” and constantly encouraged departments across the library to collaborate.
“She was very smart, one of the smartest people I know,” Turcotte said. “Very interested in the community, really wanted to make sure we did the best we could for the community. It was always about serving the public.”
Herrmann was an extremely fast reader, and though she preferred literary fiction, whereas Turcotte liked nonfiction, Turcotte said Herrmann read nearly every book she mentioned to her.
One of Turcotte’s fondest memories of her late friend was traveling to a conference in New Orleans and dancing to a live jazz band together.
“She’s very funny, very sharp wit, I always enjoyed that,” Turcotte said. “Always had an open door for anyone who needed to speak to her, and she could be a lot of fun.”
Jeff Hartman, who does marketing and outreach for the Chelmsford Library, said he and many will “miss (Herrmann) a lot.”
“She was a great leader. She cared personally about all the staff at the library, has made sure to mentor people professionally,” Hartman said. “It’s just really going to be a great loss to all of us here and to the community.”
Town Manager Paul Cohen said the loss is “devastating,” as he and Herrmann knew each other for more than 16 years. Though he misses working with her, Cohen said he misses her “great personality,” community outreach and supportive nature.
“I’m just tremendously saddened by her passing, and we’ll miss her in the years to come,” Cohen said. “She just enhanced the community. The library, I’ve always said, was the heart of the community, and she made it that way.”
To have such a close bond with a colleague is particularly special, Foley said.
“It’s a big loss personally, to me,” Foley said. “I suppose that’s rare, to really respect your boss, to buy into the vision and to be friends with them. I think that was a rare blessing.”
Library staff plan to honor Herrmann at her services on Saturday, Jan. 7 at Bennett Funeral Home in Concord, N.H. Donations can be made in Hermann’s memory to the library’s Impact Fund or the Reach Out and Read Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, according to the obituary.