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A Tribute to a Beloved Friend: Norm Cail

February 01, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous

Regular readers of the Friends’ Newsletter are well familiar with the monthly contributions of Carol Cail, an accomplished author and dependable guide to books and libraries. Unless you were a volunteer book-sorter from “a few years back,” however, you probably weren’t familiar with Carol’s husband Norm.

I am sad to report that Norm Cail died on December 30, in Colorado Springs where he and Carol had lived since 2016. Although I have lost a friend, more fundamentally this Friends organization has lost one of its most important friends.


From the “Before Times”, you all know that the Friends’ book-sale operations were exceptionally well-organized, and offered tens of thousands of books in carefully curated categories. Well, that wasn’t always the case. Back in the mid-Seventies, the Friends would receive only a few thousand books over the course of a full year. And once a year (only) there would be a sale, consisting of only about four tables, with the only categories being “Fiction,” “Non-Fiction” and “Children’s.”

Starting from scratch in this manner, the Friends decided they could use a cart to move book boxes. Somebody (and I wish I knew exactly who that was) decided that maybe they could borrow a cart from Longmont’s Daily Office Supply Store. Store owners Norm and Carol graciously agreed, and that cart loan led to a multi- decades deep relationship with the Longmont Library and its Friends.

Carol quickly saw room for book-sale improvement, by offering more books in more narrow categories to choose from. As she began spending more time in the basement book-sorting area, she persuaded Norm to join her, at first to help with the heavy lifting. But between the two of them, they created a categorization system to break the books into about 60 distinct categories. Over time, those initial four tables grew into about 75 tables, sometimes spread out in two separate buildings and displaying some 80,000 books. Such a tableau would have simply been unimaginable before Carol and Norm’s involvement.

I’m not sure when I first became a book sorter myself; it might have been around my retirement in 2007. But I quickly fell into a habit of joining a crew of Monday morning regulars in the library basement: Charity, Denny Spraetz, and Norm and Carol. Carol was outgoing and sparkly, but I have to say it was a little harder to get to know Norm. He was very quiet, and never talked about himself. But it was obvious that he was very intelligent and extremely analytical.

I was always one looking for easier ways of moving all those books around. Norm was instrumental in arranging for us to move beyond hand carts and actually acquire a pallet jack (I can’t believe we ever managed without it). I would occasionally offer some other not-even-half-baked idea for some other contrivance, and Norm would listen patiently before injecting a dose of needed reality. When we thought we were losing too many books to theft, I suggested we create “some kind” of conveyor device that would transport donated books into a secured area. I just now ran across Norm’s response to that one: an email that printed out to three complete pages reporting on the experimental wooden slide he had constructed, complete with measurements of dimensions, weights, angles and “coefficients of friction.” That’s just how he thought.

When I was President of the Friends Board in 2011, I started an effort to nominate Norm and Carol for a prestigious volunteer award from the Boulder Community Foundation. In my nomination letter I described some of their accomplishments in addition to the book-categorization system:
  • Spending thousands and thousands of hours in sorting books, each averaging something like 20 hours every week
  • Personally handling between one and two million books
  • Creating a sophisticated storage system to ensure books are securely arranged so as to be accessible when needed
  • Helping arrange for the big annual sale to be augmented by a series of more frequent smaller sales
  • Being dependably on hand at every sale, making sure the right books were delivered to the right sales area and tearing down the operation at the end of the sale
  • Creating a series of “free-book shelves” for the community to reduce the number of discarded books
  • Setting a critically needed example for new volunteers, by maintaining calmness and eliminating “drama.”

In my award-nomination letter, I mentioned that these efforts had occurred over three decades. When Carol saw this, she contacted me to say that Norm, characteristically, felt guilty by this reference because they hadn’t been involved for three complete decades. I managed to persuade him that was not a problem, by saying that George Brett was said to be the only MLB player to have won batting titles over three decades, even though his career had spanned “only” 14 years.”

Well, I’m happy to say the Boulder Community Foundation correctly assessed Carol and Norm’s contributions and did indeed name them its Volunteer Award Winners for 2011. Prominent in its Award proclamation was this description by Becky Williamson, founder of the Longmont Friends: “They simply set a standard for maintaining order. They literally create order out of what could (and used to) be chaos.”

Also characteristically, Norm and Carol promptly donated their Award prize money to the Library. — JIM ENGLAND

Friends of the Longmont Library is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.
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