MERIDEN — Growing up in Vestal, New York, right across the Susquehanna River from the birthplace of IBM, Karen Roesler would laugh when her dad suggested she should grow up to become a librarian or work with computers.
Now, a month before she is set to retire from a four-decade library career, the director of Meriden’s public library grins while reflecting on her dad’s advice.
“It’s so ironic because when he first said it I was like, ‘Oh dad, who would want to be a librarian?’ You know, it was sort of embarrassing,” said Roesler, who “played librarian” and enjoyed visiting libraries growing up but “didn’t want to be like one of those ladies.”
“And then a computer programmer, I didn’t even really understand what that really was,” she continued. “The only reason I would even think of computer programming was because of where we lived. And I have merged those two careers in such a way because data processing and computers have become a big part of a librarian’s shift.”
Roesler, 68, will retire on July 18, after 11 years leading the Meriden Public Library and 24 years leading the Wallingford Public Library.
Roesler, a city resident since 1978, became the director in Meriden in January 2008 after working at the Wallingford Public Library for 33 years, including 24 as co-director. When Roesler’s husband retired in the late 1990s, she got a second job as a part-time librarian working on the reference desk at Meriden’s library while co-directing Wallingford’s library.
Working as a librarian helped Roesler “see the bigger picture” as a director.
“It was a great experience,” Roesler said. “It really is a great experience to work in the trenches, where you feel the frustration of people in trenches.”
When the director position in Meriden opened, Roesler became the “perfect candidate” to fill it given her director experience and familiarity with the Meriden library, said Joan Edgerly, president of the library’s board of trustees since 1984.
“I thought, ‘Wow, you mean she’s willing to leave Wallingford and come to Meriden? What could be better?’” Edgerly said she thought at the time.
Leaving was a difficult decision for Roesler, who “loved every minute” of her time in Wallingford. At the time of her departure, Wallingford’s library was at the tail end of a $12 million renovation that Roesler oversaw.
But Roesler ultimately couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do what she loved in the city where she raised five children.
“I love the city of Meriden. I’m one of those cheerleaders for our city, and so the idea of being able to do what I love doing in my own town that I love … was a dream job,” she said. “Every minute I was in Wallingford, I loved it. And I will forever be grateful, but I never regretted taking the position here. I loved what I did there and I love what I do here.”
Roesler, who became a librarian largely because she likes interacting with and helping people, said the hardest part about becoming an administrator is losing the daily interface with the public. But her position allows her to work and partner with different community organizations, some of which she was involved with before taking the job.
Edgerly described Roesler as a strong-willed person with definitive ideas, but said she always remained open to suggestions from the board of trustees.
“She’s been a pleasure to work with,” City Manager Tim Coon said, “and she’s had an obvious and deep impact on the Meriden Library, which you can see in the people who work with her, the board, etc.”
Roesler will retire next month before she’s able to see through a multimillion dollar renovation of the library that city officials are expected to approve later this summer.
Roesler has been pushing for renovations to the library, particularly the children’s section, which she sees as a valuable resource for children’s development.
“I know this community is very supportive of making sure that our kids get the best chance to succeed, and that starts at an early age, and the public library is a perfect place for families to come for free,” she said.
With the renovations and other outstanding projects still on her plate, Roesler hasn’t had time to wrap her head around retiring but expects “it’ll sink in in a week or two.”
“To tell you the truth,” Edgerly said, “I am very unhappy for us that she’s leaving, but I am happy for her because she can pursue things she didn’t have the chance to do before.”