Laurel Sisson has dedicated her time to Riverhead Free Library for almost 50 years.
Her professional career there began in 1966. She worked in multiple departments, including the children’s room and reference desk, and was later an assistant director.
“Laurel was instrumental in filling this library with the content that really made it the most modern library in Suffolk County at the time,” said Liz Stokes, the current head of circulation.
During her early years at the library, Ms. Sisson started its collection of audio books. The Riverhead resident also partnered with one of the library’s former directors, Elizabeth Overton, to raise funds and find sponsors for art and culture events there, Ms. Stokes said.
Most notably, Ms. Sisson spearheaded an effort to expand the library’s collection of local history materials.
“When I started here 32 years ago there were just six books on the shelf behind the desk where Laurel worked,” Ms. Stokes said. “Now it’s a room.”
Ms. Sisson, who retired in the late 1980s but continued to work at the library part-time until 2015, was honored by both the library and Riverhead Town last Thursday — her 86th birthday — for her contributions to preserving Riverhead’s history.
The library presented her with a plaque that had a clock in the center and the words “Thank you to Laurel K. Sisson for preserving our time in history.” The plaque was then hung in the local history room. She also received a proclamation from town Supervisor Sean Walter.
Ms. Sisson is quick to acknowledge that she didn’t expand the local history collection on her own, but had the help of numerous colleagues who “laid the groundwork” for the expansion.
But that didn’t stop Ms. Stokes and executive director Kerrie McMullen-Smith from singing her praises. They said Ms. Sisson’s devotion to preserving Riverhead’s past, as exemplified by the thesis she completed in 1967 for her master’s program at C.W. Post, is what sparked the growth of their collection. That thesis, “A History of the Riverhead Free Library Including a Brief History of the Town of Riverhead,” was bound in hardcover and remains part of the local history collection. The library presented copies of the book to Ms. Sisson’s family members who were present last Thursday.
“We thought it was fitting to leave a footprint now,” said Ms. McMullen-Smith, adding that Ms. Sisson will soon move out of state. “The plaque hangs in our local history room as a tribute to Laurel because without her preserving that past we would have no written history. I mean, even now people will ask questions and we refer to Laurel’s book to answer the questions.”
The thesis told the story of how the Riverhead library moved from location to location, including back offices at Main Street businesses and a room at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School. The current library was built on Court Street and opened in 1964.
“I think it influences the character of the town, of the community,” Ms. Sisson said of a town’s history. “We learn from our roots, really, things that have been inherited.”
Last week’s recognition caught Ms. Sisson by surprise.
“I’m very thrilled and flattered that people remembered me for that,” she said. “I’m very grateful and feel very humbled being honored in such a way and I hope that the library continues to grow and thrive.”
Top photo caption: Laurel Sisson of Riverhead was recognized last Thursday for her contributions to the extablishment of Riverhead Free Library’s local history room. (Credit: Courtesy of Mark Sisson)