THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

In this quirky contest, librarians have a freewheeling time

By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / April 30, 2011

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DANVERS — A group of librarians sashayed and slowly twirled to the beat of the 1964 hit song “Chapel of Love’’ while pushing book carts around the Crowne Plaza hotel ballroom. Leading the way was Gerry Deyermond, who proudly wore a white veil and gave her best “princess wave’’ to the audience as she marched in time alongside her colleagues from Andover’s Memorial Hall Library.

This was one of three choreographed routines performed Wednesday afternoon during the Massachusetts State Book Cart Drill Team Competition, a quirky, little-known contest that has become a regular event at the state’s annual library conference.

Deyermond is known in library circles as the “book cart queen’’ because she’s credited with keeping the offbeat pastime of dancing with book carts alive in the Bay State. The staff of the Andover library has been doing it for eight years, she said. One year, they dressed in Red Sox uniforms and pushed book carts while strutting to John Fogerty’s baseball anthem “Centerfield.’’ They’ve been Keystone Kops and Peter Pans, too. Another year they went with a Batman theme.

“We found the music from the TV show,’’ said Deyermond. “We had the Penguin, the Joker, Batgirl, and Bookworm — he was a villain.’’

The idea of librarians dancing with book carts tickles Deyermond. “The public sees us in a whole different light,’’ she said.

Book cart drill teams aren’t a phenomenon unique to Massachusetts, and they’re not exactly new, either. Ever since 1983, when one of the earliest book cart drill teams formed in Virginia, teams have been sprouting up at libraries across the country, rehearsing synchronized routines and making occasional appearances at conferences, festivals, and parades.

There’s even an official Book Cart Drill Team World Championship. The American Library Association hosts the event as part of its annual conference. (The registration forms for the latest contest challenged librarians to “strut your stuff’’ and showed a woman leaping over a blue book cart with her legs splayed like a gymnast.)

The annual conference of the Massachusetts Library Association has included a book cart drill team competition for the past four years. Previous performers have included teams like the Andover Cartwheelers, Plymouth Rockettes, Methuen Des Cartes Coquettes, and the Arlington Rockin’ Robbins.

According to the official rules, judging is based on technical ability (control of the book cart, organization, precision, timing, degree of difficulty, unique moves) and artistic impression (choreography, musical interpretation, costumes, cart décor).

But keeping the spirit of book cart-pushing performance alive has been no easy task. Recruitment and education are key. Deyermond concedes that the past two years have been tough. When there weren’t enough teams to field a real contest last year, she held a tutorial session instead.

The last truly competitive book cart dance-off in Massachusetts took place in 2009, when staffers from the Plymouth Public Library snagged first place by dressing in sparkly pink cowgirl outfits and black high heels, dancing to the Shania Twain’s hit song “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!’’ The winning performance by the Plymouth Rockettes has been posted on YouTube.

“This year was more of an exhibition,’’ said Deyermond. Wednesday’s event featured three teams. Deyermond’s team dressed like British aristocrats and created a dance routine that spoofed the Royal Wedding. Another team featured Debbie Pennino from Northeastern University Libraries, Jeanne Sill from Littleton’s Reuben Hoar Library, and Sandy Leifeld from Newton Free Library. The team was captained by Paul McInnis of Sebco Books, a company based in Pembroke Park, Fla., and they performed a routine to The Prodigy song “Stand Up.’’

The third group, Team Playaway, was made up of Lori Salotto, a library technician from Middleborough Public Library, Karen Horn, the circulation supervisor at the Sturgis Library in Barnstable, and Andrea Eshelman and Erin Logsdon, both of whom work for a company that makes Playaway digital audio players (which some libraries use to play audio books). They performed a children’s song called “Orange.’’

DEMCO Inc., a library supply company based in Madison, Wis., sponsored the event and provided book carts for the performances. Trophies were presented to all three teams at the end.

Deyermond, who works as assistant head of circulation at Memorial Hall Library in Andover, is hoping for a bigger turnout next time, as she always does, every year.

“We’re having fun out there,’’ she said.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.