Somers Schools Pay Tribute to 'Trendsetter' in Library Science

Friends embrace under the new lettering of the Linda M. Chapman Library, named for the late library media specialist. Credits: Photo by Gabrielle Bilik
The new plaque over the doorway to the library at the middle school Credits: Photo by Gabrielle Bilik
"Enjoy a piece of Linda's favorite candy," reads the tag on the bowl of butterscotch candies. It was among many items laid out by friends and loved ones to memorialize Linda Chapman. Credits: Photo by Gabrielle Bilik
Julie Gherardi, assistant superintendent of learning at Somers Central School District Credits: Photo by Gabrielle Bilik
A photo of Chapman distinguishes bookmarks for the taking. Credits: Photo by Gabrielle Bilik
Memories shared by attendees brought some in the audience to tears. Credits: Photo by Gabrielle Bilik

SOMERS, N.Y.--Upon entering the newly renamed Linda M. Chapman Library at the Oct. 5 dedication ceremony, one could deduce much about its namesake.

According to a table labeled “Linda’s favorite things,” she liked butterscotch candies, “Harry Potter” and a certain gray scarf. She also had developed friendships and relationships with  colleagues who would travel great distances to see a library dedicated in her honor. 

Chapman died in September 2016 after suffering a stroke. She is survived by her husband of more than 50 years, Stephen, and their son, Jonathan.

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The event was organized by Cathy Gelman, a former Somers Middle School library media specialist who worked with Chapman for many years. She described her first meeting with Chapman when she was “fresh out of library school” and first joined the district.

“I was immediately taken with her passion and exuberance,” she said, adding that “Linda was a rare gift and a constant source of inspiration.” While loved ones spoke of the “absence,” “vacuum,” and “sadness” they felt in the wake of her death, they did so briefly, only to punctuate the trails she “blazed” and the positive impact she had on them.

“In all of  [her] roles, she made the people she touched feel like anything was possible,” said Julie Gherardi, the district’s assistant superintendent of learning.

Chapman’s friends, colleagues and husband divulged various tidbits about Chapman throughout the ceremony, which, when stitched together, composed a loosely structured timeline of her life. They spoke of how she guided them, perfected a project up until the last minute, and made them feel “valuable, capable and energized.” Regardless of which moments of her life they shared, themes of dedication, love, innovation and compassion ran through them.

Chapman was born in Connecticut. She eventually earned her master’s degree in library and information sciences from the University of Pittsburgh and worked for 30 years in education, joining the Somers Central School District in the 1990s and finishing her career there, retiring in 2011. 

“She contributed so very much to our personal and professional learning here in Somers,” said Gherardi.

In addition to serving as a library media specialist at Somers High School, she served as library coordinator for students through Grade 12, an instructional technology specialist, a staff development facilitator and co-leader of the mentoring program. She also was an adjunct professor at Long Island University.

“She was a trendsetter among library media professionals”  said John Monahan, a former BOCES regional library director. He and Chapman were both on the Putnam | Northern Westchester School Library Systems Council.

He added that “she was a respected member of the faculty and loved by students, at the university.”

During her career, she was recognized as a leader in her field. Honored by the State University of New York Education Department for “teaching excellence in instructional leadership,” Chapman was the first library media specialist to earn such distinction, Gherardi said. She was also recognize as the New York State Teacher of the Year by Technology & Learning Magazine, also a first for a library media specialist, according to Gherardi. 

Chapman was so dedicated to her work, colleagues said, that she would stay in the library long after the school day was over. To them, Chapman’s legacy is so tightly intertwined with the library, which she helped redesign in 2001, colleagues said they can still see her sitting in her favorite computer chair.

“Linda was my reference source for personal guidance,” Gelman said. “After a while she didn’t even have to say anything; her presence alone made me want to work harder.”

Gelman and others said they still feel her presence, particularly in the Somers Middle School Library. In addition to the library’s new name, her memory will be preserved by a piece of art her husband Stephen designed in her honor, as well as a framed quilted collage put together by Elaine Vislocky, a former curriculum and staff development specialist, and Paula Clinchy, the Primrose library media specialist, to hang in the library. 

In a tearful speech, Stephen said, “In many respects, today, here, Linda is home.”

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