When Lillian Burnley retired in 2007 as director of the Upper Moreland Public Library, she had accomplished the near impossible: ushering the library into the 21st century.
Although her 15-year tenure was celebrated at her retirement party, where she was joined by admiring area legislators, she is again in the news. Burnley died on Jan. 19 after a long battle with diabetes and kidney disease. She was 68.
Hard to believe that only a decade ago, libraries were still checking out books the old-fashioned way.
“I worked at the circulation desk,” said Dan Deming, “and hand-punched each patron’s library card with that little metal plate on it.”
Deming worked part-time at the library when he attended Upper Moreland High School, nearly 20 years ago.
Burnley and her library staff were among the first in Montgomery County to jump aboard the digital bandwagon, said Joan Greenberg, retired reference librarian.
When the major library changes occured, Burnley was in her 50s, and she could barely type. However, she led her dedicated staff into the modern automated age.
Shortly afterward, the library moved from its cramped basement quarters across the street in the township building into its roomy new building at 109 Park Ave.
Always open to staff suggestions, Burnley brought the library increased story hours, summer programming, computer classes, an adult book discussion group and a film series, all continuing today despite massive budget cuts from Harrisburg.
Hanging on the walls throughout the library is an art collection of beautifully framed paintings and prints. According to Greenburg, then board president Elaine Klawans and her husband, Alan, both artists, came up with the idea.
Alan, a renowned printmaker himself, became a consultant. Relying on his — and Elaine’s — knowledge of nationally-known artists, he commissioned prominent artists such as Joan Landis and Ruth Fine to create works for the library.
Overseeing the newspaper nook is the whimsical sculpture “The Reader” by Robert Jackson.
Burnley’s library innovations were all the more remarkable since she faced grueling, time-consuming hours away from her beloved library. Three days a week, she received life-saving kidney dialysis treatments, said her husband Bob, also a librarian.
Although Burnley was a local woman, she was ambitious for her library to have the world at its fingertips.
She “was a strong believer in freedom of information,” said Greenberg, and wanted the collection to represent a wide point of view.
A keen interest of Burnley's was developing a strong young adult collection. She would be pleased that her successor, Margie Peters, hired a full-time young adult librarian.
If the library collection was expansive, so, too, was Burnley's care for the library's patrons. She was never too busy to look up from her computer to ask after a patron’s family.
Pastor Rebecca Eisenhart of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, who delivered the eulogy, said, by phone, that the church’s homebound program sent two women, including a teenager, out to Burnley’s Hatfield residence once a month. Burnley never tired of talking to high school student Maddie, asking about her extracurricular activities and college plans.
Burnley is survived by husband Bob, three sons and five grand-daughters.
Donations can be made out to the Upper Moreland Free Public Library.
Editor's note: A clarification of the artwork's origins has been made from a previous edition of this article.