‘WE DON’T SHUSH’
By ANDREW MCGINN firstname.lastname@example.org
Some people leave big shoes to fill.
Terry Clark will leave puppets.
“I may have gone a little overboard on the puppets,” the retiring children’s librarian conceded.
To be fair, in her role as assistant director and children’s librarian at the Jefferson Public Library (she also does its finances as bookkeeper), Clark has had more than two decades to amass the tools necessary to inspire the imaginations of the community’s youngest residents.
“We would use more glitter if the custodian didn’t complain,” library director Jane Millard added.
When Clark retires at the end of the month at age 65, she’ll leave behind a children’s department that routinely pushes the 117-year-old Carnegie portion of the library to its physical limit.
In fact, Clark’s successor won’t have to worry about filling big shoes or an all-star cast of puppets — instead, they’ll likely need to fill a new, larger library.
“One of the reasons we need a bigger building is because of the children’s programming,” Millard said. “Terry has built something that has grown beyond the walls.”
Responding to a 2018 study which found that the Jefferson Public Library should be at least 12,000 square feet just to offer the amount of programming it currently does — the present library has only 8,000 square feet — the Jefferson city council on July 13 OK’d a facility planning study for the library.
Whether the Jefferson library moves to a new home or finds a way to remodel (again) its home since 1904, it’s too early to say.
But because the Jefferson Public Library loans 50 percent more items and provides twice as many programs than libraries in similar-sized towns, the 2018 study by a library planning consultant recommended Jefferson’s library be between 17,000 and 19,000 square feet.
By month’s end, the children’s collection and programming will be the responsibility of new youth services librarian Stephanie Hall.
Clark says it’s time for someone else to get the opportunity she had.
Besides, Clark said, she has grandkids who are “growing up quickly.”
When she joined the library staff on the adult side in 1995, the library was just beginning to undergo the metamorphosis that would reshape the institution for the generations to come.
By chance, 1995 was also the year the local library went computerized. Clark helped barcode thousands of books. No longer would staff physically stamp due dates on little cards tucked inside front covers.
“The library was a place of reverence when I was a kid,” recalled Clark, a lifelong local resident.
She chuckles now at the thought of actually being shushed by her parents before even walking through the door.
Leona Lacock was library director back in those days — a position she held from 1948 to 1984 — but she may not recognize the sights, the sounds or even the smells of today’s library.
It didn’t smell like popcorn when Clark and Millard were kids.
“The library’s a very colorful place,” Clark said. “We’ve evolved. And we’re not quiet anymore. We love to hear the kids laugh. We don’t shush.”
“It’s the librarians,” Millard added, “who need to be shushed.”
A library these days isn’t defined solely by books. It’s become a meeting place, a community center and, for the youngest, a place of discovery thanks to creative learning centers and imagination stations.
Clark helped plan Toddler Fest, a collaborative program of the county’s libraries, for 14 years. (Unbelievably, those first toddlers are all now driving age.)
One thing, however, hasn’t changed.
“There’s a real sense of joy when kids come in and get their first library card,” Clark said. “It’s exciting when somebody new to town says this (the library) is one of their first stops.”
Succeeding Shirley Clark, Terry Clark became children’s librarian in 1998, a job seemingly tailor-made for the 1974 graduate of Jefferson High School who had been a day care provider for more than a decade.
“She’s got some pretty special qualities,” explained Millard, library director since 2000. “She’s a very loving person, and the kids sense that. She’s a mom and grandma, and they sense that even before they know it. It takes a certain kind of person to love other people’s kids.”
Books are still pretty important, too.
“If you don’t have the latest book in a series, they’ll let you know,” Clark said of her young patrons. “That’s a good thing.”
Story time is a regular occurrence, with Clark even adding story time for infants — a service to both growing children and the young parents who relish the time as a chance to meet up.
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,” she said.
Even with limited space, Clark makes sure to keep a healthy selection of classics on hand, including “Treasure Island” and “Anne of Green Gables.”
Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Dr. Seuss remain on the shelves, as they always have, despite some objections nationally over dated portrayals of minorities.
As Millard puts it, “We don’t censor.”
“Those books,” Clark said, “open up conversations about things.”
But where Clark truly made her mark was with her theatrical flair, whether it was through her many puppet shows or the books she would adapt into plays for the annual Halloween program.
“I think it’s the kids,” Clark said, suggesting that it was the children who brought it all out of her.
“I think it’s Terry,” Millard said.
“She’s had a huge impact on a couple of generations of children here,” Millard explained. “She maybe doesn’t even realize the impact she has had.”
Retirement open house
Terry Clark is retiring after 25 years of service to the Jefferson Public Library as assistant director, children’s librarian and bookkeeper.
A retirement open house will be held in her honor from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Aug. 28 at the library.