PRIME TIME: Celia T. Critchley, a forward-thinking librarian

Published on Sunday, 10 June 2018 21:37
Written by Bob Montgomery

The following is a biography of Celia T. Critchley, written by Eleanor Wilson in 2000 as part of the Builders of Bristol - Millennium Edition series, an account of those who left their imprint in Bristol:

“Celia T. Critchley (1902-1992), librarian of the Bristol Public Library for more than 25 years, died Jan. 8, 1992, ironically 100 years to the month after the first Bristol Public Library opened its doors. A daughter of the late Christopher and Mary (Ford) Critchley, she was born on Oct. 19, 1902, and she and her siblings, James, Christopher, Mildred and Loretta, were lifelong residents of Forestville.

“She graduated from Bristol High School in 1920 and in September of that year joined the staff of the library. Named assistant librarian in 1942, she succeeded the late Charles L. Wooding as head librarian in 1944, a position she had served so extremely well until her retirement in September 1963.

“Her administration, armed with spirit, vitality and wisdom, was intent on expanding the library services. She long sought a branch in Forestville and this came to fruition when the Manross family gifted a home on Central Street to the library for their branch, which opened in June 1950. Later, the house was replaced by the present facility which was constructed in 1975.

“Public library services to the schools expanded under her guidance when she worked closely with the late Superintendent of Schools Carl A. Magnuson, and school administrators.

“Miss Critchley inaugurated bookmobile service in 1947 using a station wagon in reaching to the outlying area of Bristol. She also developed a Music and Art Department at the main library which was later named after her. This department was later dismantled and transferred to the mezzanine in 1992.

“In order to expand children’s services, she pioneered and succeeded by constructing a modern Children’s Library addition which opened its door in May 1963.

“Celia Critchley lobbied for computerization in the early 1960s, but was unsuccessful in convincing city fathers to endorse this new technology. The library later became computerized two decades later.

“She was recognized by the American Library Association as one of the 10 outstanding librarians from small communities in the United States and in the summer of 1960 accepted an invitation by the Swedish National Board of Education and the Swedish Library Association to attend a conference with Swedish public libraries.

“She was instrumental for the writing of Beals’ History of Bristol, one of the better texts produced on the subject.

“Her community and professional interests were many: president of the Quota Club; secretary and member of the board of directors of Bristol Girls Club; president of the St. Matthews Ladies Guild; membership in the Bristol Catholic Women; membership in the Bristol Historical Society. She also worked closely with Regina Laudis, the Benedictine Community of which her niece, Rev. Mother Therese Critchley, had been a member.

“Celia also served on special committees of the New England Library Association and served as an executive board member and as president of the Connecticut Library Association. She was a charter member of the Connecticut Division of the Catholic Library Association and later worked as librarian at the former Laurel Crest Academy.

“The tremendous strides made under her administration are plainly evident today. Within the limits under which she was obligated to operate, Celia T. Critchley left a heritage shared by thousands who avail themselves of the library facilities both in Bristol and Forestville.

“The community of Bristol can take pride in having enjoyed the services of such a devoted public servant. This writer was privileged to have worked and learned under her administration.”

Write to Bob Montgomery, c/o The Bristol Press, 188 Main St., Bristol, CT 06010. Call 860-973-1808 or email:

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Sunday, 10 June 2018 21:37. Updated: Sunday, 10 June 2018 23:02.