I saw an advertisement in a newspaper in 1982 for Substitute Librarians. The ad showed the salary was $10 an hour. Since my job as a school librarian at Lennox High School was being eliminated due to budget cuts, I thought it would be fun to be a substitute librarian while I was teaching high school. It was only after I received my first paycheck that I learned that I was not getting $10 an hour. When I checked with our payroll clerk, I was told that $10 was the middle of the range. Oh, well…
My very first day working at LBPL was at Los Altos in August 1982. For the next 5 ½ years, I subbed at every branch except Mark Twain. In 1984, I was asked to work at Ruth Bach Branch as the (substitute) children’s librarian during the Summer Reading Game. It was the summer of the Los Angeles Olympics, and the Reading Game revolved around the Olympics with children who read 20 or more books earning a red, white, and blue ribbon from which hung a reading medal. All the medals for all the children were attached to the ribbons by hand by super children’s librarian Karol Seehaus who had designed that year’s reading game. (Karol was the librarian who first trained me to use the library’s online catalog back when I was a substitute. We all have Karol (and Steven Quinney) to thank for her years as our union shop steward. From the first time I met Karol, she reminded me of the late actress, Lee Remick, with her beautiful smile and red hair. Karol had a real mission-she wanted the children in the Bret Harte area to get library cards and use them to check out books and read them. To that end, she visited every elementary classroom at least once a year, and she welcomed teachers bringing their classes to the library almost every morning before the library opened to the public.)
Working at Bach, the hours just flew by. We had a large number of participating children, and what could be better than working with the Branch Librarian Ruth Brillault and Wanda Drummond, our library clerk. Ruth’s desk was neat as a pin with only our “dailies” (we actually had to do time cards every day!) and a silk plant. During my time working with Ruth, Administration wanted to install a drive-up window at Bach so patrons could call in their requests, drive up, and staff was supposed to run over to the workroom and check out the materials to the patron. Ruth referred to that plan as “Jack in the Book.” Needless to say, that plan never came to fruition-thank goodness. Wanda was in charge of all the live plants which she tended lovingly every Thursday morning. Many of Bach’s plants were on top of the highest book shelves so (don’t tell Admin.) Wanda would stand on top of the big wooden book cart and “surf” it as she said, to move the cart from one place to the next. Ruth, Wanda, the pages Greg and Velvia, and I were a great team and there was never a dull moment at Bach.
During the summer of 1985, I helped Mrs. (Marie) Reidy at El Dorado. After she retired, Marie told me that she had been told by Administration that they were going to build a second story on El Dorado and that El Dorado would contain the biggest children’s collection, both current and retrospective books. Well, as I write, that has never come to pass, and since there was not enough room to hold all those books, the collection was weeded so that the remaining books could fit into the library. In the summer of 1986, I was in charge of the Summer Reading Game at Brewitt where I worked for Karen Cressy. It was Karen who gave me some great interviewing tips including asking me where I wanted to be in 5 years. I told her, “I want to have the biggest Summer Reading Club in the city.” Well, thank you, Karen, because after that summer, I was hired on as a non-career part-time librarian at Bach, and with the help of Herb Levi in Administration, I was made permanent part-time which included benefits. From there, Herb kept working until I was promoted to full-time (32 hours at Bach and 8 hours in Science and Technology at Main). In S&T as it was called, Charles Vestal showed me the ropes. Charles later went on work for LA Public Library.
S&T shared a workroom with Social Sciences where Linda Boag worked. Both Social Science and S&T were headed by Barbara Davis, the Department Librarian. I have many fond memories of those Thursdays at Main—Ruth Stewart and the late Doug Kermode in Literature and History, Frances Smith at the Information Desk, Madeline Pratt and Doris Gylseth in Children’s (as it was called them.) Madeline Pratt was and is a very avid reader. Whenever we had a “stumper,” we could depend on Madeline for the answer. Her specialty was fantasy, and she did a school-age story time every Saturday. She now volunteers as the Bookworm Buddy, reading to children at Main Library. The only bad Thursday was the day of the Northridge Earthquake when Main didn’t open to the public until around noon. We had no working toilets or running water and needed our employee badges to get into City Hall to use a toilet. Of course, I had left my badge at home so when someone asked if I wanted to take a break, I didn’t take it, not without a working toilet I could use!
I worked for 8 years at Ruth Bach—first with Ruth Brillault and then in the summer of 1988 right in the middle of the Summer Reading Game, Ruth was transferred to Dana and Mary Hegdale came to Bach. The patrons loved Ruth so much that they didn’t let that slip by them—some went as far as calling the mayor to protest. But I guess, when Administration says “Go” you “go.”
I learned a lot from both Ruth and Mary. Ruth always said, “If you can’t get your work done in 40 hours, you aren’t doing it right.” And when asked about her goals and objectives, she said her goal was to get her paycheck and her objective was to get her retirement. Mary showed by example, that all employees deserved to be treated fairly. She is a rule-follower, but everyone knows the rules and I respect her for that. I am blessed that even though both Ruth and Mary have retired, they are still my friends.
After Mrs. Reidy retired, Chris Burcham was chosen to fill Marie’s gigantic shoes. Chris did such a great job that she was shortly promoted to Branch Librarian, then Youth Services Officer, and finally Manager of Branches. About the same time that Marie retired, Joan (pronounced Jo Ann) Jordan retired after 39 ½ years with LBPL from Los Altos. Joan said she “just couldn’t face 40 years.” Joan was a lovely children’s librarian, with a quiet demeanor and a love of storytelling and fairy tales. Working with the Branch Librarian was great. Lynda Fritz literally knew everyone who came through the door. The reason I can say that is when I started there, she introduced me to each person BY NAME! Lynda made that library a “neighborhood library” long before the term was applied to all our branches. Lynda was personal friends with Councilman Tom Clark and she would pick up the phone and enlist his help whenever she needed it. I was happy to be chosen to work at Los Altos where I stayed for 2 years after Joan retired. I would have stayed longer, but I was asked to move to El Dorado and just a few weeks after I transferred to El Dorado, Mary Hegdale was transferred there too, so the team was back together again until Mary retired. Mary has some great stories. I remember her telling me how Jim Jackson could “walk and talk” with a problem patron until he had walked the patron right out the door of the Man Library. She also tells about the woman who would come to Main dressed in a blanket (or less!) Before being a branch librarian, Mary worked as a Teen Librarian at El Dorado and (I think at North.)
After Mary, we had 2 other Branch Librarians—Caroline (pronounced Carolyn) Meyer and Nancy Paradise. Caroline was a work horse. I’ve never seen anyone tackle a project, especially weeding like Carolyn. Nancy was empathetic and made El Dorado home for many patrons.
I had been at El Dorado for at least 12 years, when I was asked to go to Main. At that point, Candy Powell was the Department Librarian, Catrina Hanna was another children’s librarian, and Ryan Baker was the teen librarian. Despite being the teen librarian, Ryan ran a very popular baby story time. I could hear him through the walls saying “Tickle, tickle, tickle.” Ryan went on to become the City Librarian of Irwindale Public Library.
We lost other fine librarians to management elsewhere: Carrie Lixie is the City Librarian of Yorba Linda, Luis Herrera who was the Head of Branches in LBPL was the City Librarian of San Francisco and San Diego and he was also the President of the California Library Association. Helen Fried became the head of the Orange County Public Library system. Vinta Brown Shumway became a college librarian in charge of all the library instruction. Shawn Townsend is the Principal Librarian in Upland. Judy Kamai recently retired from being the City Librarian of Signal Hill. And let us not forget, Nancy Messineo who rose from a full-time General Librarian, was demoted to half-time after Proposition 13 so she left LBPL for another system which offered her full-time work. When she returned to us, it was with a promotion to Branch Librarian. From there, she rose up to be Manager of the Branches. During that time, she was very instrumental in getting the new Mark Twain Library built. In fact, she and her husband Frank (who later died much too soon) personally drove LBPL’s grant application for funds to build the new Mark Twain Library to Sacramento to be sure it did not get lost in the mail. Unfortunately for us, Nancy left us shortly before that new library opened to become the City Librarian in Downey.
After 6 months at Main, there was an opening at the relatively new Mark Twain Library which was managed by the fabulous Sue Taylor. She went from the tiny library across the street, a library with no staff lounge—her folding sand chair in the park was where she took her break and lunch, and not even a public restroom to managing a staff of 20 in the newest, biggest branch library. Sue entered the library each day literally whistling a happy tune. That set the tone for the day. Being at Mark Twain wasn’t work—I was part of a great team and we had a common goal—to provide the best service possible. Sue dubbed me the “Head Children’s Librarian,” No extra pay, but I coordinated the work of 3 other great librarians—Hope Troy, Katy Ellis, and Carla Sedlacek. LBPL had the biggest collection of popular books in Khmer, the language of Cambodia. This is thanks to Sue who went to Cambodia twice to buy the books that were not available anywhere in the U.S. Glenda Williams, our Director of Library Services, accompanied Sue on her second buying trip to Cambodia. I heard that Glenda was a whiz at keeping all the records of purchases and receipts in order. She would not go to sleep at night after a full day’s shopping until the paperwork was finished.
After 2 years at Mark Twain, there was a vacancy at El Dorado, and I went back for a few years before I was promoted to Department Librarian I at Los Altos, where I had worked before. Our Library Clerk II Danette Drennan told me, “Every 20 years you just keep coming back.” It was sad when Danette was transferred to Bay Shore after being at Los Altos for probably more than 20 years. Danette was VERY well organized and had records going back to the day she started with LBPL. Shortly before she was transferred, I overhead a patron say, “I am going to wait for Danette; she knows what she is doing.” She has since retired. Others working at Los Altos were the new Clerk II, Susanne Vanderhoof who has a Masters in Library and Information Science, Angela Scott with her Masters in History/Archeology, Maria Vallejo-Rico who earned her Masters in Criminal Justice while we worked together, and Margaret Bellas who deserved a Master degree for her language skills in Burmese and French.
One of the things I am most proud of happened while I was the supervisor at Los Altos. I discovered that the library was actually paying some of the employees LESS than minimum wage. I saw the pay on a job announcement for pages and assumed that it was just copied from a previous announcement, but that was not the case. When I asked our Payroll/Personnel Clerk Pat FIerros, she told me that the City of Long Beach was exempt from minimum wage rules. I was shocked, especially since the City Council had recently voted to force other employers in the city to pay more than minimum wage to their employees. So I called my union rep. The union went to work, and eventually all City workers (in the library and other departments) were making at least the California minimum wage.
I have Claudine to thank for inviting me to join the union when I first started working as a non-career part-time librarian. But I have to thank Claudine for many other things. She is an expert in Long Beach history, and loves to share her knowledge. It seemed like whenever Press Telegram columnist couldn’t come up with something to write about, he turned to Claudine for story ideas. Claudine also volunteered to speak (for free) at library programs, reading and discussing the many books she has published about Long Beach. And we all should thank Claudine for gathering the memories of past and present LBPL staff.
When Los Altos was celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2017, Claudine and Tim Grobaty were the speakers. We were very fortunate to have Mrs. Marie Reidy attend the celebration since she has been the Children’s Librarian at Los Altos when it opened, even before she married Pete and became “Mrs. Reidy.” Marie was Tim Grobaty’s Children’s Librarian at Los Altos and when El Dorado opened and Mrs. Reidy transferred to the new library, Tim followed her. In Tim’s book about East Long Beach, Growing up in Long Beach : Boomer memories from Autoettes to Los Altos Drive-In, there is a picture of Mrs. Reidy at story time surrounded by children. He credits her with getting him to read.
We have lost some wonderful LBPL staff. This list is probably not complete, but these are some of the employees who died before they got to enjoy retirement:
Lynda Fritz, who had retired but was still working as a substitute librarian
Pam Ratner, who officially “retired” just a couple weeks before her death, but had been too ill to work for quite a long time before that. She last worked at Bret Harte Library.
Judilyn (Judi) Ashley, who passed away suddenly while still working at Bret Harte.
Doug Kermode, who was killed in a motorcycle crash. Doug always made me feel valued when he was in charge on Sundays and I was a substitute. He made sure I was there, and made sure I got my break. Ruth Brillault, who had worked with Doug at Bach (?) said that Doug always felt like Administration was spying on the employees and he would go around jokingly saying, “Speak into this book.”