For love of a mystery

Posted:  Monday, December 31, 2018 - 7:00am
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There are likely few people on the peninsula who love a good mystery as much as Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library’s Shirley Sirois. Not a fan of tooting her own horn, Sirois chalks herself up to being a mystery buff and a lifelong reader’s advisor. Nancy Drew piqued her interest when she was ill in her early teens. Now, she is more partial to Tess Gerritsen.

“But I like a variety,” said Sirois. She also named Michael Connelly, John Connolly and Patricia Cornwell. “More the forensic type of mystery is what I like.”

Sirois was born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts. She married and moved cross-country to California and her husband encouraged her to keep going to school. Sirois worked for Disney for six years while going to school before deciding to cut her schooling short to work for Anaheim’s library system.

“After I was there for about five years, they put me through library school and I finished up.”

Anaheim's Sunkist Branch Library employed Sirois for the next 30 years as a librarian specializing in reader advising. This makes her an old school librarian, the type who grew up on and practiced the Gaylord method, stamping books rather than scanning them, she said.

However, Sirois said she played a big part in the transition from stamping to scanning books before she left the Anaheim system. After making the process sound fairly simple, she said it took about two years to move all the massive library system's books into a digital record. She went on to help other cities’ libraries with training.

“For me to come from way back and to move into the now was just fantastic. I just love it.”

About 15 years ago, a widowed Sirois moved to East Boothbay after marrying her husband Al. Not working as a librarian made her feel a bit like she was floundering so she decided she wanted to volunteer.

“Several times I came in and I couldn't make a connection … (but) four years ago Lisa Arsenault was here, we hit it off, and I decided to volunteer.”

Volunteering at BHML was a fantastic fit for Sirois. She was able to put all her knowledge to use. Director Joanna Breen described Sirois as the library’s in-house seasoned professional librarian.

Sirois said Breen told her she wanted the library to be known for something unique. After trying a few different ideas, they got onto the subject of mysteries one day and both were intrigued. Sirois agreed to write one story sharing her knowledge and love of mystery.

“It was such a hit, I wrote a second one!” said Sirois and since September 2017, she has written 10 more “I love a mystery!” articles under the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library headline.

In 2017, BHML received a Maine Humanities Council grant which brought a book discussion series together in early 2018. The series was called “Refreshing the Whodunit” and it became so popular that when it finished, readers demanded that some sort of mystery book group continue. Sirois started the “I love a mystery” book club.

It was one of those “one thing evolved into another” scenarios, said Sirois. She pointed out that BHML is only the official meeting place, Unofficially, long sessions on mystery will go down in the aisles of Hannaford or Rite Aid.

“A few people will come up to me and say, 'Are you the mystery lady,'" laughed Sirois. “Maybe. Am I mysterious? I don't know.”

Having taken a couple years of creative writing classes in college, Sirois said she used to write short stories all the time. But will Shirley "The Mystery Lady" Sirois ever write a mystery of her own?

“No! I could probably tell a good one, being from Salem – what better place, right? … But if I had to write a big long story, I don't think I'd be excited about that. I like doing this, this is fun for me.”

BHML will hold another series through a new Maine Humanities Council grant called So Near & So Far: An Exploration of Cuban Literature. The series will meet at BHML at 10:30 a.m. every first Saturday – Feb. 2, March 2, April 6, May 4, and June 1. Larissa Vigue Picard will be returning to facilitate the group. The I Love a Mystery book group will continue meeting every second Saturday of the month.