The love of reading

For 43 years, Judy Jones introduced children to the joys of reading at her Grafton library storytime

(Above) Judy Jones has retired after 43 years with the Grafton Public Library but reading will always be one of her hobbies. (Below) GRAFTON PUBLIC LIBRARY Children’s Librarian Judy Jones (right) held her final storytime of her four-decade career with the library last week. Among the attendees were Dana Pegelow (left) of Grafton and a host of youngsters. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Children’s storytime outside the Grafton Public Library on April 22 appeared unremarkable.

“My name is Mrs. Jones, and I love to read stories,” Judy Jones told a small group of children and their mothers gathered on the lawn.

Jones welcomed children with customized songs that included each of their names, read a couple of books and had everyone pretend to be rabbits — complete with fingers for ears — and jump into a make-believe hole that was their home.GRAFTON PUBLIC LIBRARY Children’s Librarian Judy Jones (right) held her final storytime of her four-decade career with the library last week. Among the attendees were Dana Pegelow (left) of Grafton and a host of youngsters.	 Photo by Sam Arendt

She displayed excitement and a sweet temperament that could warm the children as well as their jackets did in the cool weather, but this session was anything but ordinary.

This was the final storytime of Jones’ career. 

She has worked at the library for probably longer than any of the mothers in attendance have been alive — 43 years.

Jones, whose family moved to Grafton in 1963, was “super excited” when she heard the library was hiring a staff member in 1978. Jones, who had volunteered at the library in middle and high school, got the job. She was named children’s librarian in 1982.

Jones attended one semester of college before getting married and later went back to earn a degree in liberal arts from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, mostly through distance learning, but sometimes she made the seven-hour drive to attend classes. She later went to night school for three years — she had two of her three daughters at the time — to earn a master’s degree in library science from UWM.

Learning is a lifelong love for Jones. She regularly attended seminars, webinars, classes and conferences to develop her expertise and network with colleagues from other libraries.

“I like the feeling of always being able to learn new things. Even now, I’m not going to stop,” she said of her retirement plans. Jones is considering doing audio book reading from her Port Washington home.

“I would like to just read books. I’m not aspiring to get a Grammy,” she said.

She has read plenty during the last five decades. Children’s storytime has been a staple at the library that provides value even when it doesn’t look like children are paying attention.

“Even if a toddler is crawling all over the place, they’re still soaking stuff in,” she said. “The more exposure the babies and young ones get, the more they’ll comprehend later on.”

She prefers an active group. A robotic attentive audience would have Jones worried.

“If everybody sat around and did everything we wanted them to do, I’d think I’m bombing,” she said.

Jones does not play the role of grumpy disciplinarian but once had to stop for a second to give a mother a message.

“‘Do you know he just bit somebody?’” she asked, referring to the mother’s young son.

Those instances were rare. Most times, Jones is pulling a mom to the side to provide tips and techniques on what to do at home to help children learn.

Jones tries to plan each storytime session but feels out the group and adjusts on the fly as needed. She is not afraid to try new things and fail.

Years ago, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction implemented an early literacy program. Jones was unknowingly already teaching most of the skills through story time, but she added activities such as a matching game to have students get up and walk around.

“We don’t want it to be academic. We want it to be more about the experience,” she said.

Jones likes all kinds of books. Some of her favorites for children are “Little Beaver and the Echo” — “I could probably read it with my eyes closed,” she said — “Puddle Duck” and “Little Brown Bear Loses His Clothes.”

Jones loves the direct communication with children and developing relationships with families.

“They come right up and tell you you’ve got something on your nose,” she said.

Besides storytime, Jones managed a five-person department, selected books to purchase, ran summer reading programs and developed partnerships with schools and day care facilities.

The children’s library offers books for babies through sixth-graders. It has board books and books for early readers, chapter books for first and second-graders, fiction geared for third through sixth-graders and nonfiction for all ages.

During a career field day, she explained to students that one of her jobs is to put the books back where they belong. Some children instantly pointed out books that were out of place.

“Yeah, it happens all the time,” Jones said of the sometimes “thankless” job.

“It’s not for everybody’s brain,” she said.

While the library is quieter these days, before the Covid-19 pandemic it was “Armageddon” filled with children playing and making noise.

“If you don’t like something like this, you’re in the wrong job,” Jones said.

During the last year, Jones propped up an iPad on books to do storytime from her living room.

“We had to be creative,” she said. “I had to learn all about Zoom.”

Libraries, she said, have turned into interactive information centers that are custom designed to fill community niches. For example, the library in Wild Rose, Jones said, circulates cake pans. Others offer cooking classes or chess clubs.

“They used to be a place to go ‘Shhh’ with a crabby librarian and where people pay fines,” she said. “To me, that’s not good customer service.”

The layout of libraries has adjusted over the years to meet changing needs, offering areas where patrons can relax, charging stations and rooms for group meetings. Reference librarians move around the floor rather than sit behind desks.

“The library is a living organism. It’s probably the most adaptable of all places,” Jones said. “It’s a one-stop shop. You can find answers to all your questions.”

That shop where she has spent the last 43 years at has been an enjoyment.

“I’m one of the luckiest people because I’ve loved my job from the time I started until now,” she said.

Jones still likes to read outside of work, although she prefers audio books. She likes historical fiction and cozy mysteries. Her favorite book is “The Awakening Land” trilogy by Conrad Richter that won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1951. It tells the story of a white American frontier family.

But reading children’s books during storytime is how many in the Grafton community will remember Jones, including those at the final session last week.

Dana Pegelow said her children love it when they get to sing along with Jones.

“The ‘Hokey Pokey’ is the first song he learned at home,” she said of Bennett, her 4-year-old son.

Pat Grabow brought her youngsters, grandchildren and other children she takes care of to hear Jones.

“She’s been the same all these years,” she said. “She kept that enthusiasm.”



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