Meet Clayton Cheever, New Director for Morrill Memorial Library
By Donna Lane
On February 8, Clayton Cheever took over the role of Director for Norwood’s Morrill Memorial Library. Cheever took what might be considered a circuitous route to this position. After graduating from Vassar College as a geography major, he worked as Assistant Director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) in Austin, Texas for a short time. He then moved to Denver, Colorado, where he grew up, and worked for fair housing, directed the Denver Community Reinvestment Association, worked for several lawyers while contemplating law school, served on some nonprofit boards, and joined a start-up medical research company.
During that time he married his best friend, Jackie DeLisi, a teacher, to whom he’s been married for 25 years.
“When we learned we were to become parents, we evaluated our lives and decided we wanted Jackie to pursue a doctoral degree in education,” Cheever said.
The couple moved to Watertown and have live in MA ever since.
In the bio he wrote to introduce himself, Cheever shared how his love and appreciation for public libraries began.
“I came to appreciate the incredible history of public libraries in this country, and the power of public libraries in general after being inspired by a profile of a radical librarian in a magazine I happened to pick up,” Cheever explained. “That ‘radical’ librarian was Sanford (Sandy) Berman, a library cataloger who was challenging the Library of Congress to call people what they want to be called - rather than using names scientifically or arbitrarily assigned to them,”
He challenged other practices and ideas as well.
“What I remember most about the article is that it helped me appreciate not just the idea of community, but what it really means to listen and engage with everybody across our communities in an honest kind of way,” Cheever said. “That’s what excited me about it”
As he learned and experienced more through the years, he realized the tie-ins with other things he had been doing in his life that he hadn’t even thought were library related … like managing the intellectual property for a private company … or when he was volunteering in the used book store that he’d grown up going to because his parents were part of a food cooperative that was run out of the basement of the book store. But at this point, Cheever still didn’t really know what went into working in or for a library. He took himself to the local library, the Watertown Free Public Library, and had a conversation with the assistant director. That day, he learned that to pursue a library career he would need to have a library science degree.
He took a job at the Harvard School of Public Health in Longwood and shortly thereafter enrolled at Simmons College (now Simmons University), the only accredited graduate school for library and information science in MA. During this time he would also work occasional shifts at the Watertown Free Public Library (WFPL). After taking a Reference class, he could start helping out in the Reference Department; after taking a Teen class he could help out in that department. He was gaining practical experience in various parts of the public library, helping patrons and meeting people in the community.
During that time, WFPL was building a large expansion, the effects of which left a lasting impression on Cheever.
“From the excitement in the community, to the passionate people who were involved in all the work, to the people in the community who were supporting it as well as taking advantage of it, that’s what cemented my love for public libraries,” Cheever said. “That, and there are so many fascinating avenues you can go down as a public librarian.”
After graduating from Simmons, Cheever became the head of Information Technology and Technical Services at WFPL and held that position for several years before moving on to work for the Boston Public Library as a teen librarian in Hyde Park and Mattapan, then joined the management team and worked out of the main library in Copley Square.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and could have easily stayed if not for the opportunity to become the assistant director of the Thomas Crane Public Library in Quincy,” Cheever said. “I was there seven and a half years and never had a moment of boredom.”
This man may have been inspired by Sandy Berman, but by now it had become very clear that he was smitten with all that libraries were and could be.
“I’ve been in love with being a public librarian for a very long time now,” Cheever confessed.
Did he come with any grand plans for Norwood? Absolutely not! Cheever believes that would be presumptuous of him.
“I came to learn and to listen to how things are done,” Cheever said. “I am most interested in learning what Norwood needs. We’re in the beginning stages of a strategic planning process. I need to understand our role in the community and how we can best meet the unique needs of the Norwood community, working off our greatest strengths; so, I need to understand what those strengths and needs are to guide us forward.”
Asked if there was anything new in library science that he planned to implement at Norwood Library, Cheever shared his future thoughts on the Town’s beloved resource.
“If we can use great new tools to work off of our greatest strengths, we will,” Cheever explained. “But if we fall back on tried and true solutions, that’s fine too. What’s most important is not what new tools or trends we’re following, it’s how I build up those strengths to address Norwood’s needs.”
Asked how the pandemic had affected him personally and if it had changed or solidified his thinking in any way, Cheever opined that not everyone has experienced the pandemic equally and we have all had incredible challenges. He believes that what’s most important is our ties to each other and how good we are at recognizing and taking care of our own needs and each other. Once again, his interest in social connection shines through.
“How do we support each other so we can support ourselves?” Cheever asked. “That’s something I believed in before as part of my belief in the strength of public libraries. It’s been so much more amplified as we watch this horror show of people who are at the extremes of this nasty virus. We can try to help each other or we cannot – at our own peril.”
Cheever cannot cite a specific book or author as a favorite.
“I have so many favorite books and authors it would be like picking a favorite child; I just couldn’t do it,” Cheever chortled. “I’m much more interested in figuring out what excites other people and helping them find things they might like. I’m a very promiscuous reader and have found things to love about so many different styles and artists.”
In addition to reading, Cheever loves watching movies, walks in the woods, the beach, good food (he’s Vegan), cooking with friends, and especially listening to music. He said he can’t wait until the pandemic is over so we can have outdoor music festivals again and believes that there’s something universal about music that can transcend language and culture.
“I like the exchange of ideas and engaging in ideas in a lot of different ways,” Cheever concluded. “For me, public libraries aren’t just about books. There’s so many ways we can celebrate creative content.”