Denise Crawford has seen a lot of things in her more than 30 years at the Glenwood Public Library: younger and younger readers, computers and the Internet, automated card catalogs, e-readers and multimedia and enough best sellers to line up end-to-end all the way to Hastings.
But none of the things she’s seen as the long time library director can compare to what she found in the overnight book depository one spring morning.
“Someone had put kittens in the drop box,” said Crawford, laughing as she recalled the several kittens meowing and tumbling around inside the box. “It was a silly little thing but I always think of that.”
Crawford, the library’s director since 1992, will step down from her position later this month. With plans to spend more time with her five grandchildren – two in Glenwood, three more in Texas – Crawford leaves behind a three-decade legacy at the 103-year-old library.
She first started volunteering in the Glenwood Public Library as a high school junior in 1969. A 1971 Glenwood Community High School graduate, Crawford continued on with the library after graduation before getting married and starting a family. But the tug of the library brought her back. She returned full time in 1980 as the administrative assistant to then long time library director Genevieve Curry.
“She was a lot of fun to work for, she loved this place,” Crawford said of Curry. “She did a great job here and she really mentored me. I was lucky to get this job.”
As Curry got closer to her retirement, she passed the reigns to Crawford, teaching her the ins and outs of the library: how to order books, how to catalog, how to staff the small library.
“She taught me everything,” said Crawford.
After 12 years mentoring under Curry, Crawford was appointed as just the library’s second full time director since 1967. Crawford was essentially Curry’s hand-picked successor but she still had to interview with the library board following Curry’s retirement to secure the position.
“She groomed me for the job so that helped,” said Crawford.
Crawford has seen or overseen many changes at the library in her tenure. The addition of the genealogy room, named after Curry; the children and teen reading rooms; the addition of multi-media and technology, seamlessly integrated into the library’s fabric; the switch from dusty card catalogs to a computer reference system. There’s even talk of adding a coffee bar.
“The technology is the biggest change I’ve seen (in my tenure),” said Crawford. “There were computers when Genny (Curry) left but the library wasn’t automated like it is now.”
Crawford’s always considered herself a public servant.
“It’s so satisfying to help people find what they’re looking for,” she said.
When asked if she thought she’d ever be at the library 30 years, Crawford smiled and nodded.
“I think I did,” she said. “I’ve loved working here. It’s been a great job. When you’re from here and you know the people, it’s an easy thing to do. I guess I always thought I’d stay here until I retired if they let me.”
Her job has been mostly administrative for a few years, leaving most of the day-to-day check-outs and put backs to her staff of four full-time employees and one part-time employee. But she still does relish those parts of the job she first started doing as a 16-year old volunteer.
“We don’t have a big staff, so we all do it, and I enjoy it,” she said. “I love helping kids find stuff, getting them excited about reading.”
Crawford, an avid reader herself who got her first library card as an elementary student in Glenwood, made the transition to the digital Kindle a few years ago. She can’t recall the last time she bought a book for herself. Some might call her the library’s greatest proctor and patron.
“I buy very few books. I think I’ll always use the library,” she said.
Crawford’s replacement has already been hired. She will spend a few days with her successor next week to show her the ropes before moving on.
“We’ll have a couple days together before I leave to give her a once over, show her where the fuse boxes are and where to turn off the water and all that stuff.”
Crawford’s last day is Jan. 21. And what’s next for Crawford?
“I’m going to take it easy,” she said of her retirement, which she plans to spend mostly visiting those five grandchildren. “But I’m still going to be active with the Friends of the Library, I’m a life member there, and I’m a member of the (Mills County Historical) Museum. I’ll be around.”
She didn’t rule out one day serving on the library board.
“Who’s to say? It could happen,” she said. “But I’ll always be a lifetime library advocate.”