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#143 Ann Turner – More than a Librarian

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Leaders & Legacy

When Norwich University Head Librarian Ann Turner announced she would retire at the end of the 1990 academic year, she told the Northfield News, “My first reward will be a trip to Greece.” The intrepid Turner was learning Greek in preparation for the June trip, citing, “I want to be able to read the road signs.”

And on citing, she was unequaled.

Shortly after she joined the Norwich staff in 1961 as a reference librarian, Turner instituted a “program of bibliographic instruction for students—a new concept in the early 1960s,” according to an article by Paul Heller in the April 1990 Vermont Library Association News. Heller continued that Turner had to fight to get that program instituted. She also insisted that rooks tour the library as part of their orientation week, saying, “It’s so important to get the freshmen into the library early in their first semester. With the demands of the rook system they need to be reminded that a strong emphasis on academics is paramount for success at Norwich.”

Originally from New York, Anna Josephine Bessarab graduated at age 19 from Skidmore College and went on to earn a Master of Library Science at Columbia University. She was working as a reference librarian at Dartmouth College when she met George Turner, a Navy veteran of World War II who was completing his studies in English literature at Dartmouth. The two married and began their honeymoon at Fenway Park. George went on to pursue advanced degrees in education; it was his professional path that brought their young family to Norwich University in 1959, when he joined the English department. Over the years, the two became in loco parentis to hundreds of Norwich students, inviting them into their home for food, conversation, and some much-appreciated nurturing.

Head Librarian Ann Turner (left) with the late Dennis Ryan ’76 (center) and exiled Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who visited the Norwich campus in 1975.

In her early years at the library, located in today’s Chaplin Hall, Turner recalled that the members of the small, dedicated staff wore many hats. Hired to do reference work, she also processed interlibrary loans, checked in government documents, and supervised circulation. “Research was her passion,” read Turner’s obituary, “and her ability to identify and acquire resources contributed significantly to academic life at the university.”

During her early tenure, she was a driving force behind the creation of the Friends of the Norwich University Library, and under her leadership the organization grew to more than 300 members. In 1974, she was promoted to head librarian. She wrote extensively and testified before Congress in advocacy of college libraries, writing in the Journal of Academic Librarianship, “In a state as small as Vermont, each college must develop its own special collections and share them with its neighbors. In that way, students can live on small campuses, in close contact with their teachers, and still have a wealth of research material available.”

Together with her husband, Turner received nearly every honor and accolade available to Norwich staff, including the Board of Fellows medallion, an honorary doctorate, and honorary alumna. In 1990, when plans were under way for today’s Kreitzberg Library, Turner sensed it would be a good time to retire, saying, “I really did not want to plan a library that others would have to live with.” She became Librarian Emerita, a title she retained until her death at age 92. – Jacque E. Day