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Mitchell woman carries on, expands children librarian’s legacy

Mitchell Children's Librarian Jean Patrick. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Crafting is not Jean Patrick's strong suit.

But, it's a big part of Mitchell Public Library's storytime each Thursday morning.

"It's open-ended," Patrick said, chuckling. "It really gives a lot of opportunity for exploration."

Patrick began her position as children's services director, or simply children's librarian, in July when Lori Wagner retired after 26 years in the position.

At a recent storytime, Patrick gave each child a piece of blue construction paper, some wax paper and paper polar bears. The craft transformed into a reverse sort of storytime for Patrick.

"I found the kids telling me stories about what polar bears were doing, where they were going, what they were thinking about. The craft was not just a craft, but rather a springboard for their own stories," Patrick said.

Wagner's diligent fostering of storytime brings in a consistent 25 to 40 children accompanied by parents or caregivers each Thursday, which has led to the installation of Saturday storytime. Patrick will host the first Saturday storytime today.

The library will offer Saturday storytime on Jan. 27, Feb. 10 and Feb. 24 to determine whether it should become a permanent fixture. Patrick said they've had many requests for Saturday storytime from families who cannot attend the Thursday event.

"They're busy in the week and need that Saturday storytime. Parents have good memories of coming to storytime and we want to reinforce the value of early reading, family involvement and reading aloud," Patrick said.

Patrick praised Wagner's legacy within the children's section and the hard work from each librarian within the building. The whole staff is gearing up to provide the annual Summer Reading Program, which is themed around music.

"It'll be fun to see what transpires from that," Patrick said. "We will have interesting crafts that will deal with rhythm, tones, music, sounds in nature."

Amid preparations for this successful program, Patrick will attend training in Pierre in February. When she returns, she will then lead the Jumpstart workshop at the Mitchell Public Library for area librarians who are also planning their Summer Reading programs.

The patron, the author and the librarian

The Mitchell Public Library has been a second home for Patrick over the past 30 years as a patron and as a children's book author.

Since beginning her "day job" at the library, reading aloud to children on a regular basis has been an eye-opening experience.

"I'm learning a lot about how my writing can be more appealing to kids," Patrick said. "I'm beginning to see my own writing from different angles."

Now that she's learning about life behind the counter, she is even more thankful for her fellow librarians and their patience in helping her learn. But, she particularly loves venturing into the library to meet her smallest patrons.

"What I love most is being with the kids and around books. That right there is a piece of heaven," Patrick said.

Patrick described public libraries as their own subcultures, with regular patrons making up the citizenry and certain people appearing almost every day at the same time, including kids stopping by after school.

While Patrick is still learning the ropes, she is impressed with how everyone — librarians, parents, children, schools and families — work together to foster a love and interest in reading.

"I love coming to work each day," she said. "I never know what's going to happen."