Published in The Day

By Erica Moser |

Ledyard — When Gale Bradbury started working at the libraries in Ledyard, librarians had to alphabetize all the cards of books checked out at the end of each day, and call or send letters to people whose books were overdue. She said digitization saved an "incredible amount" of time, freeing up time to plan programs.

Bradbury became director of Bill Library and Gales Ferry Library in 1988, and she's seen a lot of changes in that time. An addition tripled Bill Library in size. Cassette tapes gave way to books on CD, and now Bradbury is seeing that fade as well, as people turn to downloads — and as new cars don't come with CD players. Bill Library also got a grant for a soundproof booth for people who may need to come there for a telehealth appointment or to take a test.

The libraries have gotten more into virtual programming, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And that's without getting into all the changes in helping people with job applications and to learn technology.

After more than 40 years at Ledyard Public Libraries and more than 30 as director, Bradbury announced earlier this year she is retiring, effective June 1.

"She's made the library what it is today," said Andrea Buka, head of technical services, who has been at Ledyard libraries for 25 years. Jan Dawson, secretary and technical services assistant, said the biggest things she learned from Bradbury are patience and looking for ways to find solutions to problems.

Dawson said Bradbury has been great at encouraging staff, such as encouraging Buka to start the Artists and Writers Showcase — a casualty of layoffs from budget cuts — and the maker program, through which people have offered workshops on maple syrup production, blacksmithing and Tunisian crochet.

There will be a community reception for Bradbury at Bill Library, 718 Colonel Ledyard Highway, at 11 a.m. on May 18, which Mayor Fred Allyn III has designated Gale Bradbury Day. He will read a proclamation, there will be a presentation and other speakers, and the floor will be opened up for attendees to reminisce.

A reception will be held the following day from 10 a.m. to noon at Gales Ferry Library, 18 Hurlbutt Road, where the public is invited to greet Bradbury and meet the new director, Jen Smith.

The Connecticut Library Association recently selected Bradbury as Outstanding Librarian, and she will be honored at CLA's convention this year on May 4.

All about the people

Bradbury is from Marshfield, Mass., and began her library career there, starting in high school.

"I so enjoy the people that you meet on a daily basis," she said. "They're always so grateful when you get the resources they want and they're surprised if they haven't been to the library in a while."

In 1980, Bradbury had recently married and moved to Connecticut, and was looking to get back into the workforce. She began in Ledyard that year as an assistant librarian, doing reference but also taking on children's services.

Bradbury said one of the best things for Ledyard was getting involved in the LION, or Libraries Online Inc., consortium in 1982, which allows people to borrow materials from other libraries and provides other shared services. Ledyard was the first to go live on LION, and the network now has more than 30 libraries across Connecticut.

This was also the year of completion for a building project that tripled the size of Bill Library, by expanding the children's space, adding a meeting room and providing more seating space.

Within the past several years, Bradbury said the library used a grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut to reconfigure shelving to make space for teens, add outdoor seating, improve the lighting in the children's area and upgrade the website.

The Gales Ferry Library is much smaller, but that building got an addition in 1991, and children and teen rooms were added a few years ago. Bradbury thinks the children's room at Gales Ferry is the thing that's made her happiest in her time as library director.

It's unusual for a town the size of Ledyard to have two libraries — though Bradbury thinks of it as one library in two buildings, Gales Ferry Library as a sister library rather than a branch — and there are periodically efforts to close Gales Ferry.

"However, the people here are very attached to their library," Bradbury said. She added that they have very different collections and there's not a lot of overlap, saying that Gales Ferry Library is more of a popular reading library while Bill Library is more focused on nonfiction and reference.

Information available at Bill Library on local history also has grown under Bradbury, and the libraries have held a variety of programming.

Bradbury said there was standing room only at a series a few years ago on estate planning. Gardening programs have become popular, and Ledyard started a seed library a few years ago, in partnership with the Ledyard Garden Club and Holdridge Home & Garden.

Graphic novels have become popular with teens, and Bradbury said Ledyard started a graphic novel collection among adults, but that's slower to catch on.

As for her own reading tastes, Bradbury said she is a "a big historical fiction fan" and likes reading novels by Catherine Coulter, Kristin Hannah and Diana Gabaldon. She currently is reading Gabaldon's "Go Tell the Bees that I Am Gone."

Bradbury, 70, said after 40 years working in Ledyard libraries, she felt it was time to retire. She's looking forward to visiting her son in California and spending more time gardening. She lives in Stonington with her husband.

"I know I'll miss it, because I love it," she said. "I never felt I didn't want to come to work."