By Ashley Matthews
Community members gathered at the Dorothy Alling Library on Sunday to say goodbye to Williston's own literary legend.
Rickie Emerson officially retired as the library's director in July, but faithful patrons are not ready to forget her 30 years of service to the community.
"She's been here 30 years, and for everyone on the board, she's the only executive director we've ever known," said Stephen Mease, chair of the library's Board of Trustees. "She's taken this library from one little room and made it one of the best libraries in Chittenden County and Vermont."
When Emerson came to the library in 1976, it was a one-room facility and she was the only librarian. In her tenure, Emerson led the library through several major building additions and constant technology updates. In its 100th year, the library boasts almost 102,000 books, 22 computers, 15 full- or part-time employees, wireless Internet access and large collections of DVDs and books on tape.
"I'm proud that people think this library is user friendly," Emerson said. "The staff is helpful, people can get the resources they need and we provide what they want — technology, children's services and a constantly growing collection."
Though the library's patrons said they appreciate its many advancements and resources, they also reminded Emerson of how much they appreciate her.
Victoria Francis has been one of Emerson's faithful patrons for as long as she can remember. Now, at the age of 40, Francis said she likes to bring her own young sons to visit the librarian who has touched her life.
"The library was always a nice, welcoming place to come. It was much smaller then, but just as welcoming," Francis said. "It's not a library where you feel hushed."
Emerson said she's always worked to make the library a comfortable gathering place that counters the stereotype of a dark, quiet institution with stern staff members.
"Libraries have changed over the years, and the stereotypes are outdated," Emerson said, "We consider ourselves the community living room, and you just don't sit in your living room shooshing each other."
Dorothy Alling Library has become a harbor for all sectors of Williston's population — adults seeking quiet escape, children looking for a fun story hour or students who gather to study with friends. With cookbooks and picture books, history and science fiction volumes, magazines and newspapers, the library's resources serve a wide variety of needs.
In a memory book left at the front of the library, patrons wrote page after page of messages expressing appreciation for Emerson's contributions.
"From beginning to end, you've been a great friend to each book and individual you have met," wrote one well-wisher. Another wrote, "Dear
Rickie, I remember your warm and gracious welcome to my family on our first excursion in Williston."
The book bore messages from friends and co-workers, patrons and children — all recognizing the lasting impact of Emerson's friendship, leadership and kindness.
Though Emerson’s retirement date was officially July 1, she worked part time in July and on an occasional basis since then to help with the transition. The town continues to seek someone to fill her position.
At the end of the party, Friends of the Library and other supporters presented Emerson with a gift certificate for a European cruise as a gesture of appreciation.
Even then, she insisted she should be the one saying thanks.
As she waved at friends with a joyful smile on her face, it was clear the library touched Emerson just as much as she touched it.
"All these people came here to say thank you to me, but I should be saying thank you to them," Emerson said. "It has been a labor of love, and I'm not really leaving. I'll still be around."