Changing of the guard at the Talbot County Free Library

As I was freeing a cart from those telescoped onto each other in front of the grocery, I heard something that made me look over at the front of the store. A little girl, maybe five or six years old, had stopped cold just outside the door and was now staring back at the grocery’s interior. Her mother, who was holding her hand, looked down at her impatiently. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

The child — eyes wide, mouth open as if she’d just seen a goddess — looked up at her mother and, in a voice hushed with awe, said, “She works at the library.”

By this time, I had reached the door that mother and daughter were unintentionally blocking, and I couldn’t help myself. “I work at the library too,” I said.

The little girl glanced up at me and then, clearly unimpressed, returned her gaze to the portal through which her hero had just passed. Her mother smiled at me sympathetically. “How nice,” she said.

After a moment or two of gentle tugging, mother finally convinced daughter to continue on into the parking lot, and I pushed my cart through the automatic doors, turned left and entered Produce. What was it Melissa wanted?

Twenty minutes later, my cart full of provisions, I entered a cashier’s aisle and was pleased to see one of my co-workers, Laura Powell, standing in line in front of me. We chatted amicably. It was only later, as I was driving home, that I remembered the little girl, realized Laura must have been the subject of all that reverence.

When Miss Rosemary retired after thirty-some-odd years as Talbot County’s children’s librarian, I feared she was irreplaceable. And of course, in a way, she was. It takes a special kind of person to want to spend their time, day in and day out, attending to the needs and enthusiasms of young humans, and each brings to that task their own personal genius for dealing with so demanding and creative a clientele.

But experience has taught me there are two traits all good children’s librarians share: patience and respect. No matter how long it takes one of their wards to spin out his or her story, they will sit and listen attentively; and when the tale reaches its conclusion, however inconsequential, a good children’s librarian will respond as if that conclusion tied every one of the story’s multiple loose ends into a perfectly reasonable knot.

And so it was that, when my loose ends finally twined round one other, pulled tight, and I connected that little girl’s awe with Laura, the woman who replaced Miss Rosemary as Talbot County’s children’s librarian, I knew — as I had already been coming to suspect — that we had a winner. But a winner with her own personal style.

Where Miss Rosemary tended to speak emphatically to children, as if to underline her interest in whatever they were saying or doing, Laura’s approach is so quiet and unassuming it’s almost as if she and the child occupy a different plane of existence altogether. If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to miss the fact Laura Powell is interacting with one of her charges, but the child never does. Miss Rosemary may have been irreplaceable, but it’s clear Laura Powell is now too.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this coming Saturday, June 8, in our Easton branch, the Talbot County Free Library will host the fourth annual Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival.

Many of our country’s finest children’s book authors will be on hand to sell and sign their books. There will be music, hands-on crafts, author readings, exhibits, make-a-book, refreshments — and all of it, of course, like everything at the library, absolutely free of charge.

In addition, little ones who sign up for the library’s summer reading program will receive a voucher good for a free book (while supplies last) from one of the attending authors. Still, I have little doubt that many children’s best memories of the festival will be the fact they got to see a woman they have come to love, Laura Powell. I know that last sentence is going to make Miss Rosemary very happy.

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