For the past 18 years, Lynda Austin has been a familiar face at KDL’s Englehardt Library. She has worked with youth, coordinating numerous programs over the years and visiting area daycares and preschools. June 4 with be her last day on the job.
Long Time Resident with Library Connections
Austin and her family have lived in Lowell since 1994. She insisted they live in town versus the outskirts so her sons would be able to ride bikes and explore on their own without either of their parents turning into a taxi driver. Prior to working at the Englehardt Library, Austin was a volunteer with Englehardt’s Friends of the Library. She joined the group shortly after the Englehardt branch was built.
She joined the non-profit group after participating in a book club discussion over 25 years ago. At the time she was one of the youngest members. Over the years she has enjoyed becoming friends with some older members of the community. She has served as the Vice President of the group and is currently the Secretary. “Thankfully, am now NOT the youngest member of the group. I will continue on as a Friend until I too am a grey-haired senior and will enjoy every minute of time spent with my Friends,” she indicates.
Jane Aronson, Englehardt’s Branch Manager at the time, joked that Austin should get paid for all of the time she spent at the library. She was hired and has been working part-time since 2004. She started off as a library parapro with an emphasis on youth services. At the time, she had two teenage children so she gravitated toward serving the teen patron population. The other youth-focused staff member focused on younger kids. The two worked together as one full-time person to serve all of the youth patrons. In 2011 Chris Straw became that second part-time person and the two worked together until Straw retired at the end of February.
Working with Youth
Austin has coordinated the Library Teen Crew volunteers over the years. This is a summer program where students in 6th through 12th-grade volunteer to help with programming, keeping the children’s play area picked up, restocking supplies, doing displays, and being an extra set of hands when needed.
“It has been such a joy to see these teens volunteering and to follow them through their high school years,” comments Austin. “Through the years, I have written letters of recommendation for teen volunteers for entry into the National Honor Society, for first job applications, for college scholarships and entrance applications. It was my pleasure and privilege to do so.” She also reminisces about trying to keep names straight for twin volunteers and two volunteers who met that formed a friendship during the program and later married each other.
Working as a Branch Librarian with a focus on youth has allowed Austin to connect kids with books they love. She says there are not any kids who hate to read and that they just need to get something they want to read. She also recommends the many reasons other than books that people come to the library these days, including loaning of iPads, wi-fi hotspots, audiobooks, movies, Go-Pro cameras, projectors and screens, record players, vinyl records, and camping equipment. Additionally, there are numerous programs focusing on all ages.
“We host a variety of programming for young and not-so-young that allows participants to gather together, learn and have loads of fun. All for free – how can you pass up that kind of deal?” says Austin. She is currently overseeing Tuesday night Sensory Toddler Time, which she calls her sweet spot in the programming part of her job.
Sensory Toddler Time started off years ago as a Pajama Storytime. Austin says she has enjoyed seeing dads bring their children into the library. “Some dads were hesitant to join in at first with the fingerplays and waving scarves around while jumping and counting,” she explains. “But I was the loudest and craziest big person in the room with my actions; they surely couldn’t look any sillier than me!”
Taking the Rhymetime Music and Movement program into the community, Austin has visited area preschools on a monthly basis. She calls Lowell’s 4-year-old kids her “FAVORITE PEOPLE OF ALL!.” She describes them as being able to follow longer read-aloud books and have some discussions about them. They also willingly follow her lead when singing and dancing. And they ask the most interesting questions and give the best knee hugs according to Miss Lynda.
“One of the biggest contributions she made was her dedication to our youngest patrons,” says Sandy Graham, Regional Manager I overseeing the Englehardt and Alto locations. “Lynda also excelled at taking the library out beyond the walls by delivering materials to daycare centers and doing programs at daycares and preschools. Behind the scenes, at the library, we often feel like we are jugglers trying to keep all the balls in the air without losing any. Lynda didn’t drop the balls.” She has also enjoyed the atmosphere of comfort and fun Austin brings to the library while she’s there.
Prior to COVID, Austin would also visit the Memory Care Unit and Fountain View Assisted Living once a month. There she would read aloud picture books to the residents, selecting books that would make them laugh and might spark memories of their childhoods. “It is my firm belief that everyone enjoys hearing someone read aloud. Many times I was joined by my friend Kathy and her dog Sammy, who volunteers with West Michigan Therapy Dogs. The residents were delighted with petting Sammy, “she comments. “It was so affirming to see. And I learned to never be offended when someone fell asleep as I read aloud. I like to think listening to me reading was soothing and comforting, just like being read to sleep as a child.”
Working with Lowell’s youth has allowed Austin to watch many children in the community grow up. Many are surprised when she knows their name. Oftentimes she and a parent have to explain to a child that he or she came to storytime as a toddler. “It is so great to see that the family keeps library visits as a regular part of their schedule,” she says of the progression. “It is even more affirming when those storytime kids become teen volunteers at the library and I get to know their older selves. And the icing on the cake is when those storytime kids who grew into teen volunteers who now have families of their own continue to visit the library as an integral part of their lives. I love it!”
Abby Hale has taken over the role Straw left vacant and someone will be named as Austin’s replacement soon. The youth programs at Englehardt will continue with these new faces, based on a strong foundation created by Austin and Straw.
See You Soon, Not Good Bye
As a life-long reader, Austin has found a lot of fun in her job when connecting with patrons of all ages over books. She enjoys chatting and comparing books that are compelling, books that resonate long after the last page, and even “stinker books”, which she says is such a thing.
After retirement, Austin will remain in the community and continue to be a familiar face at Englehardt Libary. She’ll be on the other side of the circulation desk and have her own toddler in her lap as a participant in storytimes with her grandchildren. She warns, “And that crazy big person waving her scarf and singing loudly to that kids’ song? Yep, that will be me and my grandkids, continuing to use one of the best, and free, resources available to people today – the public library!”
Austin and her husband, Dave, who recently retired himself, will enjoy their (soon to be) five grandchildren with some of their extra time. They also plan on discovering places to visit in the US, attending local and regional music festivals, and enjoying a busy retired lifestyle while they continue to live in Lowell. Austin will continue volunteering with Friends of the Library.
Austin encourages parents and caregivers to read to children, even after learning to read themselves. She shares that when her children were in middle and high school she read aloud “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. “We talked about the time setting, the relationships Huck had and race and the n-word and why that word was in the book,” she explains. “We spent all summer on that book and that time was precious. I would wish that for everyone.”
She tells kids at the library that reading should be a daily habit, comparing it to essentials in life like brushing your teeth and putting on your underwear. Kids are encouraged to get a library card of their own and look for books that interest them. There’s no doubt that Austin will continue to be an avid reader and seek out others of all ages to discuss books, even in retirement.
Photos courtesy of Lynda Austin and used with permission.