Meredith Butler knows the Science Library inside and out. As Dean of the University Libraries from 1989 - 2005, she oversaw the Campaign for the Libraries, an initiative which raised more than $3.5 million to fund its construction. Yet, as she arrives on campus on a Monday morning 22 years later, she doesn’t take a victory lap of the library she championed. She gets right to work, having spent the past decade-plus volunteering at the Alice Hastings Murphy Preservation Department. Even in retirement, she finds a way to contribute to the Libraries.
Meredith Butler working in the Lab
Meredith began volunteering in the Preservation Department in 2006, a year after she retired. “I wanted to do in retirement things I hadn’t time for while working,” she explained. “These included: joining a chorus and learning to sing Barbershop music, volunteering in the Cheese & Specialty Foods Department of our local grocery cooperative, and working with my hands in the Libraries’ Preservation Department. I’m still singing in my chorus and volunteering in Preservation 15 years later.”
Beginning with an introduction to all areas of book repair, Meredith assisted with triage and treatment of damaged items in the collection. As her proficiency increased, so did her confidence, as did the demand in the Lab. That led to more advanced work. “Over the past several years my focus has been on making drop-spine boxes to enclose vellum bound books in the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections. Drop-spine boxes are a challenge to make because they are complex and must be very precise.”
Her work has garnered attention and praise from throughout the Libraries, including from Karen Kiorpes, Head of Preservation. “Meredith is an extremely talented conservation technician, doing beautiful work constructing boxes for rare books,” Karen noted. “They demand attention to detail, precise measuring and cutting and careful assembly. She is a genuine delight to have in the Lab!”
“I like making things with my hands and the challenge of making something new." - Meredith on what she finds enjoyable about box making
While Meredith began volunteering in the Lab to help with their workload, it evolved into a whole new hobby: the art of decorative box making. For the last 14 years, she has made high-quality jewelry and treasure boxes, creating a successful small business in the process. She sold more than 500 boxes in 2019 alone.
She fondly recalled the realization that she had acquired the skills to design her own boxes. “For many years, I had collected beautiful decorative papers on my travels without knowing how I would put them to use. After I had worked in Preservation for a year or so, I had a vision of a paper covered box I wanted to make."
“Karen Kiorpes was always there to answer my questions about materials, structure, best practices, etc. And I found that I loved the challenge of making the boxes and figuring out how to display beautiful papers to advantage. One box led to the next and soon I had to set up a small business to sell the many boxes I was making.”
When asked what she finds enjoyable about the art of box making, Meredith had no shortage for answers. “I like making things with my hands and the challenge of making something new,” she said. “I get a great deal of satisfaction working with customers and helping them find the perfect gift or customizing something to fit their needs. The papers I am using are spectacular, so my boxes are both beautiful and practical.”
Meredith at work on a decorative box
With all of her success, inside and out of the library profession, it wouldn’t be surprising if Meredith took time to just enjoy herself in retirement. But those who know her would tell you that was never an option: she was always going to keep in touch. Why? Because it’s just in her DNA.
“I have spent my entire life engaged with books, reading and learning,” Meredith said when asked why it’s important to stay engaged with the University Libraries. “I believe very strongly in the value of public higher education. I love the energy and promise of students. I care deeply about the health and well-being of Albany’s University Libraries and especially the Alice Hastings Murphy Preservation Department and its wonderful staff.”
The University Libraries thank Meredith Butler for providing images used in this article.