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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Lessons from Pauline

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, July 14, 2013

Last week I wrote about my 30 years with the library system.  One of my staff wondered why I didn’t mention Pauline in my library stories.


Pauline was the Assistant Librarian at the small public library in northwestern Ohio which I directed right out of library school, and I guess I have quoted her from time to time.


When I was hired there, she had worked for that library for 35 years, and I was apprehensive of her reaction to the 23 year old being added to the staff.


Actually, she was delighted and said that she looked forward to the new ideas that new Directors brought to the library, and said to let her know of new things that I would like to implement.


Pauline was a kind, gentle giant in the library.  She had a huge volume of information that she was willing to share with fellow staff and the public in the most pleasant manner.


She loved to “look up” answers for people, and help people who arrived at the library for information.


To myself, I called her talents and everything she shared with me as “Lessons from Pauline” and I absorbed it all as she mentored the young librarian.


In looking up things for school students, she always chuckled about an old book called, “Elements of Animal Morphology” which contained the best drawings of animal skeletons for reports.  The old book was tucked in her desk drawer ready for the next student.


Her “pet peeve” of library users was the ones who arrived at the library 5 minutes before closing with a lengthy research paper due the next day.


Her other “peeve” was people who said they couldn’t return an overdue library book since they “had no way to get to the library.”  She would quietly say to the rest of us staff, “well that book didn’t jump off the shelves and walk over to their house!”


Things that puzzled Pauline got the typical response of “Well for HEAVEN’S sake,” stretched out with a soft exclamation.


Once I got to know Pauline, I asked her how she started working at the public library.  She was the eldest of 8 children, and her mother died during the birth of her youngest brother.


Grandma moved in to help raise the children, and Pauline was called upon to also assist with the child-rearing.  When that was completed, she decided to get a job and join the workforce.


Her first job was with the phone company, as one of the system operators.  She hated that job, and as she always said, “I nearly put the town’s phones out of commission.”


The next job was working in the local bakery, but when she saw the baker spit in the grease to make sure it was hot enough to make donuts, that ended her interest in donuts forever.


Pauline was approached by a member of the Library Board, who asked if she would like to work at the library, so she started in late 1943 when employees were hard-to-find due to World War II.


She loved it, and she was only one of three staff that ran the little Carnegie building in those days.


Her favorite story was the 1945 hiring of a new library Director.  During World War II, it was hard to find available staff, but after the war ended the Library Board had found a woman in New York City to fill the position in the flatlands of western Ohio.


Pauline was designated to meet her at the train station, where the westbound Pennsylvania RR train stopped at midnight to discharge passengers.


It was a cool autumn night as Pauline waited on the platform for the train, which discharged a well-dressed thin woman as the baggage car staff wrestled a steamer trunk onto the platform.


Pauline greeted the woman, and as the train pulled away the woman scanned the scene which included the chicken plant, the grain elevator, and the rail yard.  Not saying a word, the new library Director walked down the platform and looked up and down Main Street, and she commented, “The traffic lights are turned off.”


Pauline responded that it was past eleven o’clock.


The woman entered the small station, and inquired when the eastbound would depart, and was told 9 o’clock in the morning; to which she said to Pauline, “will you keep me company in the station and I will buy you breakfast before I return to New York.”


“Well, for HEAVEN’S sake.”