A fond farewell to a librarian. Diane Christian retires.
Guest column by Amy Roth
Library to bid farewell to beloved retiring children’s librarian Diane Christian
I was honored to be interviewed during a live broadcast by the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association Video Ventures team last week at the Comcast Cable Television Studio in Elmhurst.
Video Ventures is a weekly activity for people ages 16 and older with disabilities who are interested in gaining skills in videotaping, interviewing, and camera work.
One of the questions I was asked was how the new Richard and Gina Santori Library would be different from other libraries in the area.
I didn’t have to think about the answer for long. It’s not just the building that makes a difference in a community, though the Santori Library is an amazing, state-of-the-art edifice. It’s the people. The building is just a box until you put library staff and community members into it. Then it becomes alive.
No one knows this better than Diane Christian, who will end her career as the Children’s Department Coordinator on June 1 after working for 40-1/2 years in the Main Library.
Although she has worked in the same building all those years, it was the people who came in and out the doors – not the doors themselves – that had meaning.
Christian is retiring just a week after the Main Library closes its doors for good. She will work in the Richard and Gina Santori Public Library of Aurora for just five days.
Diane Christian is the ultimate professional. She has loved her job and done it well, and I have the feeling she doesn’t think there needs to be a lot of hoopla surrounding her retirement.
Well, we are going to have some hoopla, anyway. We are inviting all those who have gotten to know and love Ms. Christian over the years to come to the Main Library at 1 E. Benton St. on Saturday, May 23, between 4 and 5 p.m. And bring a flower for her. You can make the flower, buy the flower, grow the flower or pluck one from outside the Main Library. But this will be the community’s way to say thank you for the beautiful fragrance she has been to the Aurora Public Library since 1974.
I asked Christian to share a bit about her 40 years at the library. Following are my questions and her answers.
You are retiring at about the same time the old Main library will close its doors. What do you think it will feel like walking out of the building for the last time?
Bittersweet… I have many good memories of the children and families I’ve met and the library staff I’ve worked with. At the same time I’m excited to move to the new Santori Library.
Did you have patrons through the years you were happy to see come through the doors?
Former Freeman School Principal and Teacher Richard Johnson was a regular visitor to APL. He was passionate about reading and books. He came in often to select books to read and share with his students. He was also a storyteller who performed at the library, schools and other events. His favorite stories to perform were the “Frog and Toad” stories by Arnold Lobel. Mr. Johnson worked at the Aurora Public Library a couple summers to help with the summer reading program by listening to children talk about the books they read.
Another favorite was Mrs. Briggs and her four daughters. Mrs. Briggs loved books and shared that love with her daughters. I remember them sitting for long periods of time at a table enjoying books together, especially during the summer, when they participated in the Summer Reading Program.
What will you miss most about working?
- Seeing the look on a child’s face when he/she receives his/her first library card
- Observing parents reading to their children and children reading to their parents
- The sound of children’s laughter when I’m sharing a funny story with them like “Bark, George” by Jules Pfeiffer or “Sausages” by Jessica Souhami
- Camaraderie with library staff. They are a very dedicated, creative, enthusiastic and supportive group.
In what position did you start?
“Librarian I in the Children’s Department.”
Name three ways in which APL has changed since you started.
- Increase in number of library locations/increase in open hours/introduction to computers/addition of new types of materials like ebooks, DVDs, Hoopla (digital movies and music)
- When I began in 1974, there was a Main Library and one bookmobile. Now there are four library locations and a bookmobile. Beginning in the 1990s, APL opened on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. (from six days a week to seven during the school year). But the biggest change was the introduction of computers to circulate materials, register users for library cards and to find answers to questions via databases and the Internet. Over the years the reference book collection has gotten smaller and smaller as we have come to rely more on the Internet and databases. When I started, materials were checked using a pencil with a holder containing date stamps. Next was the Gaylord charging machine.
How did you obtain the position of head of the Children’s Department?
In 1974, Library Director Eleanor Plain hired me to work on Saturdays to help cover a vacancy. I continued to work part-time until the summer of 1975 when I began full time. In 1976 I was hired as head of the Children’s Department.
Was your plan always to become a children’s librarian? If yes, why?
My grandmother was a librarian in a small town. I saw how much she enjoyed her job and knew I would like it too.
Did you have any mentors in the library field? If so, who?
Former APL Assistant Director Judy Kuzel was one of my mentors. She introduced me to grant writing and the importance of proofreading. When Judy retired, I took over as project director for the Family Literacy Grant which has been funded for many years thanks to Judy’s early guidance.
What do you think is the most important message an adult in your position can give to a child?
My goal is to make the library an enjoyable place for children to visit so they want to return on a regular basis.
Were you a member of any service clubs or organizations through the years? Which ones?
I’m a member of the Child Welfare Society. For about 20 years, I volunteered once a month at the Gift Corner at Dreyer Medical Clinic, which served as a fundraiser for CWS. It closed in early 2015. I serve on the Aurora Township Youth Commission.
Name a program that you think was one of the best you were involved with over the years.
One of the most successful programs is the Welcome to America program that offers family literacy services to refugees from around the world and immigrants from Mexico. Funding is provided by the Illinois Secretary of State State Library. ESL classes for parents and early learning classes for children are provided by World Relief/Aurora. Parents attend classes four days a week learning basic grammar and vocabulary. Once a week on Friday, parents and children visit the library for a storytime with activities, register for library cards and receive an introduction to the library. Since 2002, the Welcome to America program has served 855 parents and children.
Do you plan to do any volunteer work after you retire?
I plan to volunteer at the Aurora Public Library and other places to be determined.
When I tell people that I’m retiring, the first question they ask is, “What are you going to do?”
Below are some short-term and long-term projects on my to-do list:
- Help with the move and the Open Houses at the Richard and Gina Santori Library
- Help with the 2015 Summer Reading Program outreach to the schools
- As a children’s librarian, much time was spent reading new children’s books, but now I will have more time to read adult books. For the last couple months, I filled a small notebook with titles I’d like to read. At the top of the list is the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon. And the three volumes of “The Liberation Trilogy” by Rick Atkinson that cover the progress of the U.S. Military from North Africa in 1942 to Germany in 1945. Each volume is more than 600 pages long so it will take awhile. My dad served in the U.S. Army with the 787th Field Artillery Battalion in Europe. As he shared his experiences with my family, it motivated me to learn more about WWII history.
- That interest leads to another retirement project. My sister, Ruth Ann, and I are preparing my dad’s WWII experiences in a book with photos to give to family members. My dad and his fellow soldiers looked for abandoned photo shops in German towns on their route where they found film for their cameras. One of the guys knew how to develop film and make prints. My dad brought home a collection of photos which will complement his WWII memoir.
- Another couple of items on my to do list are to the visit the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and to visit my sister and her family in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Georgia.