Changing of the Guard at Bancroft Library

Marjorie Turner Hollman
Robyn York
Issue Date: 
March, 2019
Article Body: 

With the retirement of Ann Fields from the helm of the Bancroft Library in Hopedale, visitors will see some changes, but they will also see a face that will be familiar to many. Robyn York, long-time Hopedale resident, who worked at the library in the past, is now taking over Fields’ tasks as library director.
We had a chance to speak with both women, and got the sense that both feel positive about the direction the library is going. Fields is confident the library will be in good hands with York in the top leadership role, and York is grateful for all the foresight Fields used, especially in leaving her with a solid budget already set up for the coming year. “Ann did a stellar job anticipating needs,” York said. “I am concerned with the upkeep of the building—the exterior needs repointing, which is a big project. And we have concerns about the roof—the building itself was erected in 1898—so upkeep is a constant concern.”
Perhaps not too surprising, both women cited the role of libraries they grew up with as favorite places for them to spend time. For Fields, it was her elementary school library, where she was a library helper, and worked in the same capacity at her high school. York noted that she rode her bike every other week to her local book mobile in Landsdale, PA (outside Philadelphia), where she checked out a stack of books to hold her over till the book mobile’s next visit. York laughed—“It’s always been the dales in my life, Landsdale, and now Hopedale.”
After her children headed off to school, Fields worked as a children’s specialist in her local library in North Carolina, where she then lived. A friend suggested that if she was serious about library work, she should pursue a masters in library science, a newly established program in the nearby university. From there she worked in Charlotte, N.C., as a librarian, and later become library director in Hawkins, TN where she had moved with her family. After her husband’s job brought them to New England, she found the position of library director at the Bancroft Library in 2008 and has been the director for the past ten years.
York’s family moved to Hopedale for her last year of high school, and she credits the Hopedale High School librarian at the time, Laurie Woden, for helping her through the difficult transition from the Philadelphia area to the small New England town of Hopedale. During college at UMass Amherst, York says she “lived at the library. During college I visited all the Consortium college libraries in the course of my work as a research assistant.” She added, “Librarians are very go-to people for getting information.”
In talking with Ann Fields, one quickly gets a sense of her fascination with the history of Hopedale, and the potential that still awaits in the archives of the Bancroft library. At the top of her wish list, Fields hopes to see more historical materials digitized and available for wider research. She noted, “Hopedale has important historical significance, both for the industrial revolution, and because of the ‘Practical Christian Community’ early community materials that are archived, but in fragile condition, at the library. The library also has copies of ‘Cotton Chats’ an irregular newspaper put out by the Draper Corporation, telling about new machinery, as well as shared news about the community. None of these are digitized.”
Fields also mentioned Adin Ballou’s significance to the town of Hopedale, and explained that the library has the complete collection of “Practical Christian,” a newsletter put out by Adin Ballou and others in the community. “We have a treasure trove of historical documents at the library that are not easily accessible for scholarly study presently,” Fields said.
York has worked in a wide variety of libraries, including several years here in Hopedale prior to and while pursuing her Masters in Library Science from Simmons College (now University). York worked at the Bishop Feehan High School library while finishing her master’s degree, and after that headed to the Bancroft School in Worcester. “And now I’m back in Hopedale, at another Bancroft library—my Bancrofts,” she said with a smile. Her biggest challenge as she takes the helm of the Bancroft LIbrary? “Lack of institutional knowledge.” She continued, “Ann knew so much of the history of Hopedale, and everything else about this library.”
At least for the near future, you may sometimes spot Fields here at the Bancroft library, since she has been leading the monthly book group. “We just had 17 people show up for our latest meeting,” Fields noted. “I’m happy to continue to lead the group unless Robyn wants to lead it.” She continued, “Libraries are still vibrant community centers, despite dire predictions that everything is going online.”
York closed our interview with these words. “I’ve had such a warm welcome, and I’m looking to do more to move the library forward in the direction it’s been going. It means a lot to be supported in my town. What a gift, a blessing to be brought here. And I live so close I could ride my bike here in the spring.”
Best of luck in your retirement Ann—job well done. And welcome, Robyn—we look forward to getting to know you better in the years to come!