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.