Speaking Volumes: A Volunteer-Powered Library

By Emily Seiffert, NBNC Communications Manager

One exciting outcome of NBNC’s ongoing capital campaign is the formation of a robust and organized natural history lending library. Working cheek-to-jowl as we did before the addition was built, there was nowhere to shelve our sizeable collection of natural history books. Plus our busy staff just didn’t — and still don’t — have the time to organize and catalog our many hundreds of books, from field guides to children’s literature.

An opportunity began to emerge when the addition was completed 18 months ago, giving us ample storage area. The stars fully aligned in 2018 when I happened to learn that one of our members had the exact skills and experience needed to develop a cataloging system.

Meet Annie Tiberio. You may already know her as a great local photographer (see annietiberio.com), or from a Naturalist Journeys lecture. It turns out that early in her career, Annie developed and managed a natural history lending and research library at Laughing Brook, a Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary and final home of the beloved children’s nature author Thornton Burgess.

In a recent interview, Annie said she was an outdoorsy little girl, “hanging out in trees and everywhere else in nature that I could. I’ve also always loved books. I love handling them, perusing them, reading them, and keeping them organized,” said Annie who, as a middle schooler, biked to her local library to re-shelve books as a volunteer.

Annie grew up to create her own major at UMass Amherst in Environmental Education. When she went to work for Laughing Brook as a young adult, she developed curricula for elementary students, taught workshops, trained volunteers, and developed the library. “My office was in Thornton Burgess’ living room, and our first tiny library was in the adjacent borning room. When we expanded, it eventually grew to 9,000 volumes shelved on volunteer-built bookcases, organized by my own self-designed cataloging system,” she said.

Fast-forward to 2018, when Annie learned about NBNC’s library dreams, she quickly offered books and bookcases, and before long she was hooked. “How I wish I could have gotten my hands on a copy of that system to adapt for NBNC’s use! But that was before computers supported all our daily tasks.”

Annie ultimately volunteered to set up a system based on her memory of the cataloging system from Laughing Brook, whose building was sadly destroyed by fire in 2004. “That wonderful library had a short, but vibrant and useful life. Now, working on NBNC’s library is a balm to my soul.” Spending a couple hours most weeks, Annie has steadily cataloged approximately 600 books so far, with the help of Americorps Member Zac Cota and fellow volunteers Stephan Syz and Candace Shaffer.

As dream becomes reality, NBNC has been receiving donations of natural history and nature education books, including entire collections when loved ones pass on. When asked how many books remain uncataloged, Annie said “It’s hard to estimate because they’re piled high in boxes of various sizes, but I don’t think we’re halfway through yet.”

The next phase will be to make many of the titles available for NBNC members to borrow. We will also offer duplicate volumes for sale, so that attendees of, say, a geology class, can peruse a selection of gently-used books about minerals and landforms.

We are so grateful to Annie for spearheading this long-term project, and to our other volunteers and book donors. If you have natural history books to donate or if, like Annie, you’re a kid (or kid-at-heart) who loves handling books when you’re not hanging out in trees, please contact [email protected]