WALLINGFORD — For a long time, the public library had a reputation as a difficult place to land a job, because there was so little staff turnover.
One of the reasons people stayed on at the library, sometimes for decades, was the work environment created by longtime co-director Leslie Scherer, her colleagues said.
Scherer died Sept. 8 at age 71 of cancer.
“Her illness hit all of us who worked with her very hard,” said Mary Heffernon, who retired from the library in 2016 after 38 years working in various positions. “During my first 25 years there, it was hard for anyone new to get a job there because there was almost no turnover. The staff was like a family.”
Scherer was hired as the head of adult services in 1974, and then named director in 1978. For much of her tenure, Scherer shared her job duties with Karen Roesler, the library’s other co-director.
The job-sharing arrangement began in 1983, when Scherer had been the full-time director for five years, and one year after the library’s move from 60 N. Main St. down the street to the then-brand-new facility 200 N. Main St.
Both she and Roesler were pregnant, Roesler said, and “we both felt that we didn’t want to be the full-time director and be new mothers at the same time.”
With the support of the library’s board of directors, they allowed Scherer and Roesler each to work three days a week with one overlapping day on a trial basis for six months.
“I don’t think they wanted to lose Leslie,” Roesler said. “She was so integral in designing the new building and having it built … It was built efficiently and economically for the time.”
The arrangement was a success and lasted 25 years, until January 2008 when Roesler departed to become director of the Meriden Public Library.Meriden connections
Scherer retired in January 2013 after 38 years with the Wallingford library. Current library director Jane Fisher took over the position.
“The Wallingford Public Library is the wonderful institution it is today because of the foundation that she formed back when she was director in the late 1970s,” said Roesler. “There are so many of us that are going to miss her so very much.”
Scherer, née Anderson, was born in Meriden and graduated from Maloney High School in 1966, according to her obituary.
People may remember Scherer as the girl who served ice cream at Les' Dairy Bar on Broad Street in Meriden. She was named after her father, Les Anderson, who opened the shop.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Colby College in Maine in 1970 and a master’s degree in library science from Rosary College, now Dominican University, in Illinois.
After a few years working at Lake Forest Library, in Illinois, she and her husband, Edward Scherer, moved back to Connecticut and Scherer was hired at the Wallingford library.
Scherer presided not only over the library’s move in 1982 and a major renovation of the building and 31,000-square-foot expansion in 2008, but also a fundamental shift in libraries from solely paper materials to computers and electronic media.
In 1982, she became a founding director of Libraries Online, or LION, Connecticut's digital interlibrary loan program. She also oversaw the implementation of the computerized check-out and card catalog system.
“It changed the way that libraries had worked for 100 years,” she said.Defending free speech
Scherer’s tenure wasn’t without controversy.
In March 2001, the library allowed a local nonprofit group to host Matthew Hale, who, at the time, was a nationally known white supremacist speaker, in the downstairs community room at the library.
Scherer said in an email to the Record-Journal in March 2001 that although the program was “not in any way presented, supported, (or) endorsed” by the library, it did meet the library’s criteria and so allowed the event to proceed.
Scherer and Roesler received the Deane C. Avery Award from the New London Day newspaper in June 2001 for defending free speech by allowing Hale to speak at the library.
Overall, Scherer’s performance as library director set standards for excellence.
Heffernon, who attended Colby a year behind Scherer, shared her remarks from Scherer’s retirement party with the Record-Journal.
“There is a reason that so many of our staff have remained for 25, 30, and 35 years at the library, and several have left for other jobs, only to return to the library, some more than once,” Heffernon said.
“Leslie has created an esprit de corps at the library unlike any I have seen in any other workplace,” she said. Scherer “directed with her incredible mind as well as her amazing heart.”
Scherer, who lived in Wethersfield, is survived by her husband Edward Scherer, son Peter Scherer, daughter Beth Richmond and three grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled for Sept. 29 in Glastonbury.