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Born for books

Longtime Forest Grove librarian leaves paid position but will continue handing out free books in Washington County

NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO - Five years ago, Linda Taylor converted a UPS truck into the Wonder Wagon, which she'll continue using to deliver books and crafts to children around Washington County in her new self-appointed role as Librarian-at-large.When Linda Taylor was 9 years old, she pedaled as fast as she could to the library, filled up her bike basket with books, spent the week devouring what she borrowed, and returned the next week for more.

Her passion for books and reading has only grown stronger over the last 50 years.

“I was born to be a librarian,” said the longtime Forest Grove resident.

She has dedicated her last four decades to literacy and libraries, including 23 years at the Forest Grove City Library, which she's about to leave in order to take on a new, homemade title: Librarian-at-large.

She will no longer rely on a set schedule or paycheck. But through her small arts and literacy organization, All Together Now, Taylor will still promote the arts and hand out free books around the county, just as she’s done for nearly 20 years — the last five in a bookmobile she calls the Wonder Wagon.

She’ll also continue to promote library services and partner with organizations that serve youth and neglected populations, including Adelante Mujeres, schools and Washington County Cooperative Library Services (WCCLS). On top of all that, she’ll be getting western Washington County’s first cohousing community off the ground (see sidebar on page A4.).

When Taylor first arrived at the Forest Grove library in 1979, it was just a small storefront on the corner of College Way and 21st Avenue.

Since then, she's been through it all. She has skied to work in an ice storm, closed the library to shield books from Mount St. Helens eruption ash, and watched shelves wave during an earthquake.

Her companion for most of those years has been Forest Grove Library Director Colleen Winters, who choked up during her goodbye speech to Taylor at the Forest Grove City Council meeting Monday night.

"When you've been 'librarianed' by Linda Taylor, you've been 'librarianed' by the best," Winters said.

Librarian at heart

Taylor grew up in California believing librarians were the coolest people around. Her mother’s best friend was a librarian and the “Queen of the Berkeley beatniks” — and Linda admired her.

Her parents also did their parts to instill a lifelong love of reading and learning in their daughter.

They both grew up poor but ended up well educated. While Taylor’s father never owned shoes growing up on a Hawaiian sugar plantation, he and his sister did have a few books they treasured. And Taylor was still in diapers when her mother — a voracious reader — began bringing her to the library near their home.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD  - Friends and colleagues say longtime Forest Grove Librarian Linda Taylor excels at converting her personal interests in diversity, creativity and community into projects that make the wider world a better place.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, Taylor joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America — the forerunner to Americorps). At 22, she found herself living above Patterson’s Furniture on Forest Grove’s Main Street, working in outreach for the county’s libraries.

That included delivering books to inmates with WCCLS founder Donna Selle.

Taylor still remembers the desperation she sensed from inmates trying to get their hands on reading materials. “They read the books until they fell apart,” she said. “They were tattered.”

While jail supervisors banned true-crime books such as “Helter Skelter” and medical texts (because inmates would fake symptoms), Taylor brought as much variety as she could. She stocked up on the most requested: adventure books, spy novels and love poetry.

Helping the underserved — the imprisoned, the impoverished, the immigrants — has always been paramount for Taylor.

“I was never very interested in working with people who have it all covered already,” she said.

Taylor earned a masters degree in library science at University of California Berkeley, then returned to WCCLS outreach for a few years before taking a job teaching in Colombia, where she could strengthen her Spanish.

Colombia was a dangerous place for Americans in the 1980s as guerilla groups kidnapped people hoping for ransom money.

In fact, one of Taylor's friends was kidnapped, though he was released two weeks later unharmed, she said.

Outside the private school where she taught privileged Colombian children, Taylor saw a practically non-existent public school system where teachers weren’t paid and kids didn’t even have pencils. This strengthened her resolve to reach out to the poor and marginalized when she returned to the states.

Latino outreach

Back in America, Taylor earned teaching credentials and took a job with Portland’s David Douglas School District, where she taught students about research and tried to pass on her love for books and stories.

Back then, libraries were still a priority of the public school system, she said, but with the current focus on student testing and with library programs being cut during the recession — and still not restored — Taylor feels it's impossible to instill that same love of reading and learning in children.

She eventually came back to the Forest Grove City Library when she was raising her two young daughters, who are now in college. NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - 'One of the most remarkable things about Linda is the passion she brings to her job and interests. It's great to be around people like her who are always thinking about ways to do what they do better,' said Forest Grove Library Director Colleen Winters (center), who helped honor Taylor with Mayor Pete Truax at the city council meeting Monday night.

In her efforts to engage all children, Taylor has worked over the last two decades to expand the bilingual and Spanish collection to match Forest Grove’s emerging Hispanic population.

She organized the library’s annual Dia de los ninos dia de los libros/Children’s day book day, a celebration of bilingual literacy in partnership with Forest Grove nonprofit Adelante Mujeres.

The event features bilingual books and Latin American art, food and entertainers.

“There’s this image I have of her with clipboard in hand, loving every minute of the organized chaos” that comes with the event, said Winters. “Linda is in the zone, happy as a clam, and the rest of us are just in awe of her and how she’s pulled this together. When she’s implementing a program — that’s when she’s at the top of her game.”

“Developing Latino outreach has been my biggest passion,” said Taylor, who incorporates her love of Mexican folk art into programs. Taylor herself spent a summer in Mexico studying the arts and enjoys making her own mixed-media works and books.

“Reading and the arts are empowering and so important for self expression,” she said. “Children go on to find their own passion that way and bring it to the world.

“We all have challenges and things to overcome in our lives, but if we’re passionate about what we bring to the world, it makes it all worthwhile."