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Woodstock's 'Story Lady' begins her last chapter

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Shelving books is part of the job, but presenting story time is her favorite activity, Joan Smith says. A number of people who work in libraries, and who go on to earn a Masters of Library Science, decide on their career simply because they like to read.

“That isn't the case for me,” revealed Multnomah County Librarian Joan Smith, MLS, who’s been at the Woodstock Branch Library for the past sixteen years – and who will retire at the end of June.

“Not that I don’t like books and reading,” Smith told THE BEE. “But I came in to the public library system because I really wanted to work with kids. Here, I get to work with kids – from infants, to those in school – but without all the rules, requirements, and discipline a teacher has to follow.”

In Redwood City, California, Smith earned her teaching credential decades ago, and she taught for about a year. When she moved, with her husband, to his military post in Munich, Germany, she worked in a preschool.

“I found that I liked the little kids, as well as the elementary school kids.

“But when I came back from Germany, I was not able to find another teaching job. I thought the library was a pretty good place to work, so I went and got my Masters of Library Science.”

Before joining the Multnomah County Library 33 years ago, Smith she worked in an autistic class for Clackamas County Educational School District. “This gave me experience working with special-needs children. It was very useful; it helped me, when we started ‘Sensory Story Time’ for kids on the autism spectrum, or with sensory integration needs.”

While some folks know Smith as she takes turns at Woodstock’s “Help Desk”, most families know her best as the “Story Lady”.

“I do seven ‘Story Times’ per week in Woodstock. I also go out to visit schools, child care centers, and Head Start programs. As I said, working with kids is what I really love – and I get to do a lot of that here.

“That’s why I say that what brought me to library science was working with people, and connecting them with books in which they are interested.”

She’s seen several changes in libraries during her career, Smith told THE BEE. “I can remember being shushed in a library, as a kid. They certainly don't do much of that anymore. Most of the major changes are, of course, technological.

“I can remember when we did not have photocopy machines in libraries. We didn't have any computers. Our resource was the card catalog. There was no e-mail, no websites, no social media, no laptop computers. But, yet, we had a great library, with books and periodicals and references.”

Smith praises the Multnomah County Library System for keeping up with the times. “W did have phonograph records in our collection; later there were audio cassettes. Now, we have computers to use, and DVDs, and even computer games.”

Her main interest also has evolved over time, Smith said. “When I first started, 33 years ago, we had two ‘story times’ a week; one in the evening, and one for preschool kids – and that’s all.

“We didn't think that any children younger than preschool benefitted from story times. And now, we really appreciate the importance of sharing stories with babies and their parents. Now we have a baby story time, two story times for one-year-olds, and a story time for two-year-olds – it's a very big difference from the old days.”

“During the story times, it’s not just the kids who are participating – the parents are having just as great a time as the kids – which makes it a great time for me. It's very much a community.”

Smith continued, “People are very important to me.

“I've worked at Gregory Heights, Holgate, Albina, Belmont, Downtown – there are great people everywhere. But Woodstock is quite a wonderful library branch, because there is so much diversity here – ethnic, economic, and educational diversity.”

While Smith hasn’t been at the Woodstock Branch long enough to see generations come through, she said she enjoys kids and adults stay in touch.

“One preschool girl who came to story time grew up, and she became a volunteer. Last year, she had her senior pictures taken in the library, because, she said, she felt like it was a second home for her. I thought that was very neat.”

Smith recalled how another shy fifth-grader began volunteering several years ago. “Now, she’s graduating form high school. She comes every week, and leads wonderful craft-making sessions.

“I've watched a lot of kids grow, and that's pretty good.”

Asked what she’d like to say directly to Woodstock patrons, Smith thought for a moment before replying: “Thank you. While I feel like I've touched a lot of people's lives, you’ve all touched my life. It’s been great. It's very hard for me to leave.”

If you’ve grown to appreciate Joan Smith’s story time presentations, stop in and tell her so, during the month of June. The Woodstock Library is holding a retirement reception for her on Saturday, June 29, from 11:30 am until 1:30 pm, and you might want to come to that too.