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Voices From Within

Saying farewell with stories

PPL will be seeing another major change, in addition to the renovations, in 2021. On January 1, after being the children’s librarian since September 2017, Rebecca Donnelly has, as she said, “rejoined the world of regular library patrons.”

Rebecca has decided that this is the time to try to focus on her writing career, and we wish her all the success in her endeavor and storytelling. We also look forward to the stories she will create for us all.

But before she departed we asked her to share one more story with us, a reflection on her time at the library, and she did it in a way we think you will all enjoy.

Thank you, Rebecca, for the stories, past, present, and future!

Your Adult Program Coordinator,

William “W.T.” Eckert

Public Libraries Are Full Of Stories

by Rebecca Donnelly

Public libraries are full of stories. Obviously, you might be thinking; why else would we have libraries? But, of course, as a librarian who’s worked in public libraries of various sizes and in various communities in three states over the past 14 years, I’m talking about the stories that happen in the library. From a former employee who hid books and DVDs they disapproved of in the drop ceiling of the Air Force base library in the Florida panhandle to the day New York Times bestselling author Chris Bohjalian surprised the Norwood book club by calling in during their meeting, I’ve heard and been a part of many library stories over the years. 

As my days at Potsdam Public Library wind down, I’m thinking of some of my favorite stories from this place. For a children’s librarian, there’s no better story than one that charts the life of a young reader. Before I was hired on as a staff member, I substituted in a few Saturday storytimes around 2013. My main goal in storytime is to make a connection with the families who choose to spend their time with me listening to stories and building literacy skills. One of the young listeners on a particular Saturday was named Kailash, and as it happened, I had just come from working in a New Mexico library where we’d hosted a local author/illustrator whose book featured a young boy named Kailash. I mentioned the book to Kailash’s mother, who borrowed it from another library. A small, simple connection, the beginning of a friendship, and the beginning of me constantly blurting out book recommendations for Kailash, who is the sort of reader who devours stories. A librarian can’t claim too much credit for anyone’s love of reading, only for trying to offer them the right book at the right time and lots of encouragement. I’m happy to say that last year in third grade, Kailash presented the library with a printed copy of his own epic fantasy, Dragonite’s Rath, which I proudly added to the collection.

In 2019, we were extremely fortunate to be an off-campus site for one of LoKo Fest’s events, a storytelling program with the wonderful and prolific author and storyteller Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) and his son Jesse. In the middle of moving shelving and furniture around for our eventual renovation project, we somehow squeezed over 100 people into the reading room to listen to music and stories. The performance itself was brilliant, but what stands out in my memory is the young boy in the Superman costume who knew exactly what superpowers he was meant to be exercising that day and stood next to Joe the entire time, doing hand movements, dancing, and being surprisingly quiet for a preschooler. A low buzz went through the crowd, a slight murmur of disapproval, but something told me not to interfere. I’ve seen storytellers before, but I’ve never seen anyone do what Joe did for the last piece of the program. He told the story of a young boy who was chastised by his community for perceived failings but who turned out to be the hero they needed in the end. When I asked him afterward if that was a spur-of-the-moment addition to the program, Joe acknowledged that it was, and that stories were very often the most powerful way to pass a message along, even to grownups.

The last story I’ll tell is the story of you, our library patrons: anytime you’ve come up to me, asking for a book recommendation or to attend a library program, anytime you’ve made a recommendation to me or told me why you or your child love a certain book, anytime you’ve needed one more book about sharks or asked me to read to your class, I’ve been as happy as I can be. “Sorry to bother you” is a phrase I’ve always responded to with, “Please bother me” or “That’s what I’m here for,” because as much as libraries are made of books, they’re built by people and sustained by people, and they’re nothing without their community. So thank you, as well, for your stories over the years.

–Rebecca

Categories
Voices From Within

Voices From Within: Introspection from PPL Staffers

Hey Gang!

I’m very excited to introduce the newest blog in our library family: Voices From Within.

Here you will be hearing from members of our library staff (Not me. You hear enough from me as it is. Ha!), and what makes them tick, what their interests are, what they bring to the library and, thus, what they bring to you.

Personally, I can’t wait to read what tales they tell! I hope you enjoy them as much as I am sure I will.

In this first installation of Voices From Within, Children’s Librarian Rebecca Donnelly talks about how she has been coping with being quarantined during the pandemic and she taps into several of us PPL staffers to find out what hobbies we’ve picked up during our new-found time at home.

What new hobbies have you picked up during these strange and uncertain times of pandemic isolation? Maybe Rebecca’s blog can give you some inspiration! Read on, dear patrons.

As per usual, I’m glad to be here!

Your Adult Program Coordinator,

William “W.T.” Eckert

What We Do To Get Through

By Rebecca Donnelly

In the early days of pandemic self-isolation, I’d burst out my back door and into the fresh air of my tiny yard any chance I got. I found enough wood under my shed, left by the previous owners, to build a couple of raised beds and plant early greens: chard, mustard, arugula. I built benches so I’d have somewhere to sit and watch the fragile shoots arrive and the thriving squirrel population launch their attacks on my beloved dirt. I attempted a bird feeder and dug out my Peterson’s Guide to Eastern Birds, pointing with glee every time a chickadee landed to grab a sunflower seed. “That,” I would say proudly to my seven-year-old, “is a kinglet. No, wait, it’s a chickadee. I think.” Like many others whose quarantine allowed them to adjust to this new reality at home, I came face to face with the yawning canyon of time and, to create the illusion of control, tried to fill it with nature lore and handicrafts. 

A table and bench built by Children’s Librarian Rebecca Donnelly during her time in pandemic isolation.

The most surprising legacy of my quarantine, though, might be the homemade yogurt. Springing from my slight obsession with reducing plastic waste, I decided to try making my own yogurt. I found a recipe at The Kitchn and, using eight cups of milk, one pot of store-bought yogurt, and a meat thermometer that gave me neither the high nor the low end of the required temperature spectrum, I tended my mini bacterial culture farm. Six hours later, I had two and a half peanut butter jars of runny, grainy goop, but my nose told me it was definitely yogurt.

Six months into this, I can still usually identify chickadees and goldfinches. I have three awkward benches and a little side table, more garden space dug out for next spring, and no bird feeder (dang squirrels). I’ve baked more bread and sourdough biscuits than I can fathom, and my little shed sports two roughly painted barn quilts. But it’s that weird yogurt I’m most proud of. It’s easy, it appeals to my quirky throwback side, and it even lets me wax a little philosophical, because why not?  I have time. Like sourdough starter, yogurt is powered by bacteria that will keep reproducing under the right conditions. It’s a small, optimistic investment in continuity. Whenever I make a batch of yogurt, I set aside half a cup to use the next time, carrying forward a little of the past with me into the next week of the unknown. 

Along with yogurt, furniture and raised flower beds, Children’s Librarian Rebecca Donnelly has also taken to making shed quilts.

Our PPL staff have been busy, too. Our director Annie has taken up the same scarf she’s been knitting for three years and is teaching her daughter to crochet and bake. Circulation supervisor Hayley is pickling and preserving summer’s bounty while adult program coordinator William has been perfecting his no-knead bread. I’m trying to convince circulation clerk Erin to open an Etsy store for ironic needlepoint designs.

Knitting has been a common hobby picked up by many, PPL Director Annie Davey included, during this new-found time at home during the pandemic.

What have you been doing to get through this time? Which quarantine pursuits have you joyfully abandoned, and which will you bring with you, like a jar of homemade yogurt, into the future?