After 20 years on the job as young adult librarian in Sandwich, Kathleen M. Johnson’s last day of work before retiring was Tuesday, October 1.
Resting on her laurels for the day, however, was clearly not part of the plan.
Trying to get Ms. Johnson to stop long enough for a quick, pre-arranged interview as she maneuvered in several directions at once was nearly impossible.
But eventually, after answering several people’s questions and helping a 3-year-old check out a book, Ms. Johnson had a few minutes to sit and talk.
“I’m not a real librarian,” she said, noting her lack of a Master of Library Science degree. “I do have a college degree,” she said, “and I trained as a Waldorf teacher. I sort of fell into this job.”
Ms. Johnson’s colleague, Stuart W. Parsons, had a different take on the situation.
“She is the best librarian I have ever known,” he said of Ms. Johnson. “She is the librarian who constantly loves libraries and librarianship. She is so connected to the community that the library expands right out to it.”
“She always looks for ways to help kids connect with the larger community. She works with the schools. She encourages students to help the environment. She arranges Skype calls with authors. It’s so powerful, and she does it so quietly,” he said. “I’m just going to miss her.”
Author of the Chesterton books Dean M. Coe was at the library to wish Ms. Johnson well and give her a copy of his book, “Chesterton Keeps His Town Jumping,” in which he wrote a personal note: “Kathy, may you find your jump into retirement to be refreshing and invigorating.”
“We will miss her terribly—her humor, leadership, in-depth knowledge of children’s literature and genuine caring,” he said. “She is a special person, and we have been so fortunate to have her in our library and our community.”
Ms. Johnson briefly reminisced on some of the highlights of her career—the puppet shows and the puppetry; toddler storytime; the Chinese New Year celebrations, which became so big they had to move from the Oak Ridge School to the Sandwich High School auditorium; Harry Potter Day in 2007, done in collaboration with Titcomb’s Bookstore and the public schools which drew 5,000 people; the large mural and other works created with local artists and National Art Honors Society students, and the Great Green Room created at Christmastime in 2014 as an exact replica of Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon,” which served as a space where people could come and just “be” during the holiday rush season.
Of all her experiences, Ms. Johnson said, it was the people she liked the most—the “really good staff” who know how to respond to people; members of the community who become valuable resources and helpful volunteers or program facilitators; the teen volunteers, and the toddlers and their parents who came for storytime, are some of the many people Ms. Johnson interacted with over the years.
“One of the great factors of a library is that anybody can come. Libraries are for all ages; this gives us latitude to really connect with everyone,” Ms. Johnson said, giving special mention to teenagers.
“The teens are always great. They are extraordinary young people who deserve time and space,” she said.
Ms. Johnson, who has been a resident of Bourne since 1997, will be moving into a 280-square-foot “tiny home” she has leased in Bend, Oregon, where her two daughters and two grandchildren live.
“I’m downsizing,” she said.
Ms. Johnson describes the “tiny home” in which she will live as a “simple, but proportionately designed house” with a full refrigerator, composting toilet, washer/dryer combination and—most importantly—an oven.
“I bake a lot,” Ms. Johnson said.
“She makes personal pies for people. She is always baking; we can’t stop her,” Mr. Parsons said.
A book with blank pages has been placed at the front desk of the children’s section of the library with an invitation for children and parents to write comments for Ms. Johnson to take with her.
“I’ve ben [sic] coming here sence [sic] I was 6 months old. My favorite memory with her is mis [soc] mouse,” one youngster wrote.
“You have been a great part of my childhood and I will miss you dearly,” someone else wrote.
“You have inspired great reading, love for learning, joy in life, and peace in parenting,” one parent wrote.
Another parent wrote about the positive impact Ms. Johnson has had on that family’s life and listed her four children, ages 19, 15, 12, and 6.
“Her programs reach toddlers to teens,” Mr. Parsons said. “Working with teens to get them involved can be tricky. I think she’s been remarkable,” he said, mentioning in particular the junior puppeteers.
“Kathy has always been ‘fully there,’ ” Mr. Parsons said. “Every day she is creative. She has been the creative force behind what we do, and we do a lot,” Mr. Parsons said. “It’s hard to imagine how to replace her.”
Faced with this sentiment, Ms. Johnson says that her leaving provides an opportunity to refresh and renew for everybody. “You can’t keep things static,” she said.
As one equally realistic student wrote in the book: “Dear Ms. Johnson. So sad to see you go but everyone retires.”
“This is the right time. I’m ready. All I have to do is get over the mountain passes,” Ms. Johnson said as she was called to meet with someone and left the room.