The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Archive: 06/01/2022

Margaret L. Crist, former Director of the UMass Amherst Libraries, passed away on December 15, 2021 at her Amherst home.

Born in Kansas to Roy and Leona Crist, Margo grew up on the family wheat and cattle farm. She graduated from McDonald Rural High School, then earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas. In 1969, Margo earned a master’s in library science from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and moved east later that year to work at the Boston Public Library, where she stayed for nearly a decade. Both as a research librarian, and later as branch librarian in Charlestown, she took great pleasure in providing services to senior citizens.

For the next seven years, Margo served as regional administrator for Central Massachusetts Regional Library System, headquartered in the Worcester Public Library. In that post, she Initiated the founding and co-directed the establishment of the Central/Westem Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing (C/W /MARS), a network which links 40 mostly small, rural member libraries allowing them to share efficiencies of automation and greatly expand the resources available to library patrons.

Margo brought those valuable insights into her next position: assistant director of the Boston Public Library, from 1987 to 1990, and then to her alma mater, the University of Michigan, where she served as assistant director of libraries from 1990-1997, supervising public services.

In 1997, Margo came to the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts to become director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, making it her job to merge the future with the past. By the time Margo arrived at UMass, she had a national reputation as an innovator who knew how to bring libraries into the information age and reimagine their role in both the public and academic arenas.Margo had studied how libraries can serve users from many different angles, and she set out to make the library more user-friendly, installing the first computer stations on the main level for the public to use a then-new research tool, the Internet.

Margo championed both technological advancement and unique resources available only in print. She believed librarians were teachers of information literacy: educating patrons how to search for, capture, evaluate, and use information. Margo believed these lifelong skills were the underpinning of critical thinking and problem-solving.

Throughout her career, Margo was active in professional organizations to explore and expand the work of libraries, including the American Library Association, American College and Research Libraries, the Association of Research Libraries, the Boston Library Consortium, and the Five Colleges Libraries.

Those who worked under Margo remember her as a leader who applauded accomplishments and who took a hands-on, helping approach to challenges. At work and in her personal life Margo was forthright and collaborative; as a colleague she was courageous and articulate; in conflict she was formidable. Friends knew her to be wise, discreet, and a non-judgmental counselor, intent on healing and empowering others. Plus, she enlivened any party!

Margo’s life partner, Joe Hopkins, was also a professional collaborator. When they met in the late 1970s, he was serving as Director of the Worcester Public Library. Over the years, they read, traveled, skied, biked, and danced together. When they returned East after seven years in Michigan, they built a house together in Amherst that was a place for family gatherings, and also functioned as part retreat and part entertainment venue. In her retirement, Margo became Joe’s caregiver after he suffered a stroke. It was a role she filled with affection and respect for her partner, and for the many generations of the Hopkins family who loved her.

After Joe's death, Margo resumed traveling, including to the Middle East, Peru, the Galapagos Islands, and Africa. She attended the annual Shakespeare Festival in Stafford, Ontario and the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Music, too, was a sustaining joy, from the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Sundays at Tanglewood to singing with the local chorus. Margo was always on the move—from Jazzercise and yoga to daily walks with her neighbor’s dog, Lassie.

Margo’s family, friends, and close neighbors will forever miss her laugh, her intellect, and the joy and love she shared during her lifetime.

Margo is survived by her sister Judith (Robert) Whaley; her nephews Richard (Diane) Whaley, Alan Whaley, Philip (Frances) Whaley; and Christopher (Kim Phan) Robertson; and grandnieces Rachel, Chaii, and Jordan Whaley; and Ava Robertson as well as the entire Hopkins family.  She was preceded in death by her parents, her life partner Joseph Hopkins, a sister Caroline Louise Crist, a brother Kenneth (Kenny) Crist who was a Vietnam casualty, and a nephew Ryan Robertson.

The family plans a celebration and remembrance in 2022.

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