At the O’Neill branch of the Cambridge Public Library, for many years, people would hear a kind voice asking children, “What’s the best part of your day and what’s the worst?”
It was likely librarian Cindy DiRusso, who recently retired after 40 years of helping avid readers young and old. Throughout her decades of service, DiRusso has been a respected figure among readers of all ages.
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Over 40 years, DiRusso forged a deep connection with the people of North Cambridge. DiRusso regards the readers who frequent the library as “close friends” and the O’Neill branch as a “home away from home”.
“I always try to be more than a librarian,” DiRusso said. “A lot of people have called me the touchstone of the neighborhood, and I feel more a part of the North Cambridge community than the community I live in.”
DiRusso’s career at Cambridge Public Library began on September 8, 1981, a few months after graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She started out as a general librarian, then became a children’s librarian in 1982, replacing another pregnant colleague. Then, with work-life balance in mind, five years later, she transitioned to a librarian role. As a librarian, she worked four days a week at the O’Neill branch.
Norma Wassel, a neighborhood library card holder, was surprised to learn of DiRusso’s retirement. Local readers like Wassel viewed DiRusso as a fixture in their community.
“She knew people when they were little kids, and now she knows her kids,” Wassel said. “She’s been in the library for so long that she’s seen a generation of change.”
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Make that first library card special
In the Cambridge Public Library system, young children must be over the age of 5 to obtain a library card. DiRusso placed special emphasis on children receiving their very first library cards at the O’Neill branch and considered this moment an important childhood milestone.
“The sooner you get your kids into the library, the better,” DiRusso said. “Listening to stories is a reading exercise and very important for the children.”
Reminiscing about handing out new library cards to young readers, DiRusso recalled savoring those special memories and sharing happiness and laughter with the children and their parents.
“Giving kids library cards is the best thing there is,” DiRusso said. “I’ll give each of them a round of applause.”
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Both DiRusso and the kids viewed the library card award as a “big deal.” As DiRusso recalled, “For some kids, it’s the beginning of their reading journey. For some children who come to our storytelling activities, it is the next step.”
DiRusso wanted every reader who walked into the library to feel important, so she was always smiling, greeting people, and getting to know newcomers as quickly as possible. She took her job seriously and promoted a better reading experience for the entire community.
“I think she’s very friendly, and we know that Cindy is always there to help,” Wassel said. “She remembered people’s names, and she’s willing to go the extra mile to allow readers to transfer books.”
DiRusso worked in the same location for 40 years and enjoyed the benefit of generous, cooperative colleagues. And she remains grateful for the amazing staff she has worked alongside throughout her library career.
“Everyone behind the desk is superior and wonderful, and each of them has something unique to offer to the community,” DiRusso said.
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Over the years, DiRusso also saw many changes in Cambridge’s library system as the city transitioned from a paperwork-centric process to a computer-guided process that facilitated tasks in a variety of ways. For example, children who do not have computers at home can now use the library to complete group projects, view graphic books, and participate in programs run by the library. But DiRusso remained an inviting touchstone.
“One thing that has never changed is that I always keep our customers in mind and provide the best service,” said DiRusso.
Cultivate the love of reading
Among the letters of thanks from readers that DiRusso keeps in a special book is one in particular that spans four generations of readers who come to the library from the same family.
DiRusso recalled the first time she encountered a customer named Mr. Bill, who walked into the library in a black suit and greeted her. She knew his reading habits and suggested books related to his interests. Now Mr. Bill’s great granddaughter comes into the library and hugs DiRusso.
Here is the letter she received from Mr. Bill’s daughter:
“It all started with my father Bill, his love of reading, and grew into a 40 year friendship with my family that spanned several generations. Dad enjoyed his trips to the library to chat with Cindy and get the books that were all there waiting for him. Thank you for the kindness and friendship you share with my family.”
Similarly, many have remembered the kindness, friendship, and goodwill DiRusso has shown throughout her 40-year career. In a way, she will always be a member of the community. And she will always be a fierce advocate of the power and importance of reading.
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“I will always be a librarian and will introduce library services to anyone who needs them,” DiRusso said. “I will continue to support the library.”
Above all, she wants future generations to have a love of reading.
“Ultimately, these young generations will grow up and become good readers,” DiRusso said. “Therefore, the most important thing for me is to create a positive library culture, to help others and to share it with them.”
Now she is sure that her colleagues will continue to create this culture and encourage a love of reading.
Luo studies journalism and writes through a collaboration between the Cambridge Chronicle and Boston University.