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Of card catalogs, technology - and rubber duckies


Linda Minor retires after 23 years at Forest Grove Public Library

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - Linda Minor tries to help library patrons with their computer skills, but cant get to everybody because the facility is short-staffed. The librarys obligation is only to provide computers for visitors to use. There was the swimming pool in the children’s area, the day a British lady asked where the “naughty videos” were located — and all the weird things people put in the book drop over the years.

Linda Minor has lots of stories to tell after 23 years as an employee of the Forest Grove Public Library. The veteran librarian, who will retire at the end of the month, took time from her busy schedule to share some stories with the newspaper which played a role in her career path. The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: How did you get started working at the library?

A: Well, it was kind of a fluke. I graduated as a French major from Pacific and taught school for a while until my kids came along. I had another job as a women’s gym co-owner in Forest Grove (Vitality Plus). We didn’t make any money at it, but we enjoyed it. I needed to start making some money because my kids were going to be going to college. I happened to look in the News-Times want ads and the library was advertising for part-time positions. It had never ever occurred to me that I would work in a library. At the time I came out of college there was such a

stereotype about librarians — you know, the old maid with a bun and the glasses. It was related to education and learning and I knew I didn’t want to go back to the classroom. I was there about six years before I wanted to become a librarian. You have to have a master’s degree so I went to the University of Illinois. I enrolled in the first online program they offered.

Q: How has the library changed since you started? How has technology changed things?

A: The biggest change is probably in the volume of transactions. Technology has allowed us to check in and out a lot more [materials] and cooperate more easily with other libraries. I remember in the early days getting a loan from another library would mean spending hours on the phone. It’s much easier for people to get information than it used to be so we tend to want more faster.

Q: What are some of your fondest memories from working at the library?

A: When we were in the old building, before we expanded the library, we had a very bad leak in the roof and a lot of rain. It got so bad the fire department brought in their emergency swimming pool they used for practicing rescue techniques and put it in the children’s area. The custodian put a rubber ducky in the swimming pool and people were coming to the library just to see it. I also remember shelving dog books that were chewed around the edges and a book about parrots that had obviously been nibbled on by a bird.

Q: You also mentioned the personal interactions.

A: I really enjoyed meeting people I wouldn’t have met other places, including my coworkers. I’ve met a lot of interesting patrons — people who are much better read than I am and who recommend things for me to read. And as a librarian — a lot of people don’t know this, but librarians have this confidentiality oath — when somebody asks for information it’s kept confidential. People come to you with very serious things sometimes. Over the years we develop relationships. It’s professional yet we know important things. I’ve seen people grow up.

Q: Any patrons who stand out?

A: There’s a young woman who has a couple kids of her own now. Her father brought his children in all the time. He didn’t even finish grade school and he didn’t speak English very well, but he made sure his kids came into the library every week. She is the first one in the family to go to college and now she’s working on her doctorate degree in library school. That’s an instance of how the library can change someone’s life.

Q: What has been your favorite part of the job?

A: Finding exactly the right thing for somebody. People often have trouble articulating what they need. One time, a British grandmother came up to the desk and she looked at me very sweetly as said, “Where are your naughty videos?” I was going to say the library doesn’t carry that kind of video. I’m sure she could see the confusion on my face. And then she said, “When I was growing up we had these videos that had a character named Noddy and I want my grandson to see it.” And I actually found one for her.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of your job?

A: Trying to meet people’s needs with a really limited budget. Libraries are used more heavily than they’ve ever been used and yet our budgets keep getting smaller. The supervising part of my job was not my favorite. I’m not good at it; it’s not my strength. Or the scheduling part of it. I’m looking forward to never seeing another schedule.

Q: What would you like to see for the future of the library?

A: Well, I think the library has always been a place for the community to meet and I see more of a need for that in today’s society. More of the libraries are starting to do more programming like classes and I think that trend will probably continue just because doing everything online isn’t that satisfying.

Q: Are you retiring for good or is there any part-time work or volunteering in your future?

A: Nobody I know is ever retired for good unless they die. I have a lot of interests, I have a lot of hobbies and I’ll certainly volunteer. I play the harp. I’m trained to play bedside music for people. I took a two-year course on playing palliative music for people who are not feeling so hot, for someone before or after surgery, or for people who might be anxious or have pain. You have to look at what’s going on with the person and decide what kind of music to play. It’s not just performance music. I got certified in 2003. Of course, I like to read. I’d like to do more gardening and exercise more.

Q: Was there anything about your job that surprised you or disappointed you?

A: I was surprised to learn about all the resources at the library. I was surprised to learn how many people are still illiterate and come to the library for help. People call on the phone and ask how to spell really simple words. There’s also still a pretty big digital divide. To me the library is a great equalizer — no matter who you are or how much money you have, what’s there is there for everybody. It’s critical now for the library to provide digital access for people because not everyone can afford a computer. So many people don’t have the technology. They don’t have the skills, and society is pushing them in that direction. Somebody who has to find a job has to have a computer. Also, people put all kinds of weird things in the book drop — sodas, ballots, baby bottles, the list goes on.

Q: When did card catalogs disappear?

A: I started in 1991 and the card catalog was still in the library but not being used or maintained. It’s been a while since anyone has asked me where the card catalog is.

Q: What do you think libraries will look like in another 30 years? How do you think libraries will survive the digital age changes?

A: People will still have information needs. More people will be in the digital world than today. They’ll still be there to meet peoples’ needs but I don’t know what that’ll look like. Libraries have been around since the beginning of the country and they’re very much an American ideal.

Q: What do you think the Forest Grove Library’s greatest strengths are? What do you think it could use a little help with?

A: I think the staff, volunteers and supporters — whenever the library needs support the community is there. The city has always been a great supporter, too. Certainly money would help. I’d like to see more partnerships with more community organizations and a stronger relationship with the schools. I’d like to see a position created that’s just for community outreach.

Q: How has a life of continuous learning affected you?

A: I like to learn and I was constantly exposed to new ideas. When I retire I’m looking forward to just using the library. It’s become my lifelong classroom. You either grow or you die. I think it makes for a more vital community. We’re always being told through studies that a community is better off when it has a strong library because it benefits the whole community.