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Finding fellowship at the library

Published 9:15 am, Thursday, August 14, 2014
  • Lisa Nowlain will spend the next two years working at the Darien Library as the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Fellow. Above, she reads to children and their families during a recent story time event at Weed Beach. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed / Darien News Contributed
    Lisa Nowlain will spend the next two years working at the Darien Library as the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Fellow. Above, she reads to children and their families during a recent story time event at Weed Beach. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed

 

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For Lisa Nowlain, the Darien Library is one "like no other," and for the next two years she will explore the town gem as the second Harold W. McGraw Jr. Fellow.

Working at the library, which she called "amazing," is in line with what Nowlain, 29, wants to do for a living, she said.

The fellowship provides an opportunity for recent graduates to work in "one of the best children's libraries in the country," Darien Library Director Alan Gray said. "We'd like to believe that this fellowship could be a marking in someone's career in the library world."

The first McGraw fellow, Krishna Grady, now is the program coordinator in the children's library.

Nowlain's introduction to the Darien Library was through a class at San Jose State University in California with her professor, Michael Stevens, who frequently spoke highly of the library.

Stevens conducts an online postgraduate course focused on library trends and tools, according to his website.

Following a nine-month Fulbright Scholar trip to Laos that allowed Nowlain to explore social issues through art, she realized the best way to continue working in a similar environment was at a library.

"Libraries are a place with community connections and community building," Nowlain said. Being a librarian provides the opportunity to help people through an informal educational setting, she added.

"There are so many crossovers from the art world to the library world," Nowlain said. "I always wanted to create art that brought people together and create new frameworks for thinking and talking. I think that happens at the library every day."

The fellowship is sponsored by the McGraw family -- which has a storied and influential history in Darien -- in memory of Harold McGraw Jr.

In the late 1960s, McGraw was a driving force in the development of a small family publishing business into the multibillion-dollar powerhouse that is now McGraw-Hill Companies.

In his hometown of Darien, though, he was known as the man behind the development of the library's first permanent home -- but not without the help of anonymous benefactors.

Samuel Dorrence, an attorney who would serve as the library board president, said McGraw "almost single-handedly got the library built," according to "So Many Friends," a book about its history. Dorrence, according to the book, was a lawyer "not given to hyperbole."

When McGraw stepped into the role of library president, the board of directors was looking for ways to raise funds for a new facility. McGraw was instrumental throughout the fundraising process by reaching out to the town -- and to two "Anonymous Angels," according to the book.

The first donation from the Anonymous Angels, a married couple, came in 1951. A New York-based attorney phoned Sidney Marland, then superintendent of schools and a member of the library board, with news that a client wanted to give the library $3,000. The purpose of the money was defined -- use it to establish a children's library.

Through 1971, the Anonymous Angels would donate nearly $20,000 for the establishment of the new library. They dictated the use for the money, but there were also times that McGraw reached out to them for more help.

McGraw retired as president in 1971, but his fundraising skills were sought again when the board realized more space was needed at 35 Leroy Ave.

Nowlain, who received a master's degree in library science from San Jose State, and her husband, Elliot Vander Kolk, moved to Connecticut last month after he was accepted into graduate school at Yale University.

She has been working in the fellowship for less than a month, but knows that her favorite spot is the TEA room, which brings together technology, engineering and the arts in the children's library.

The room has computers, tablets, digital cameras, a green screen, LEGO architecture kits, a 3D printer and more.

Nowlain "lights up a room when she's working with kids or adults," Gray said. "Everyone sees that she is an excellent librarian."

mspicer@bcnnew.com;203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews