Judy Munson values the quiet moments in Kingston Free Library, but as soon as the doors open and children sprawl around the floor with books in hand reading to one another in the children’s section, she can’t imagine a better sight.
Friday will be Munson’s final day as the youth services librarian in Kingston. She began her job in 1995, and ends her 20-and-a-half-year tenure with plenty of memories working with youngsters ranging from newborns to high school students. She is a resident of Snug Harbor.
“This is where the magic happens,” Munson said, as she looked around the picture book room. “This is where [the children] come in, especially the little ones, and they start here then they move on to chapter books from this room to the one over there. It’s a fun transition for them.”
It’s equally fun for her. She finds joy in guiding the parents through their children’s educational years, and loves that they love the library, she said.
For those who know Munson, it was no surprise she would work among books. Her mother used to read to her when she was a little girl and would take her to the public library in Newport twice a week. There she learned to use the card catalog and look for books by herself. One of the first books she checked out was a fictionalized biography of Queen Elizabeth I, she recalled.
In high school, she began working in the children’s room in Newport Public Library, shelving and picking up toys and puzzles. After some time, she gained experience on the circulation desk.
Although Munson’s passion for the library never escaped her, she went to college to study elementary education and history. Life happened and time evolved. Munson married long-time Snug Harbor Fire Department Captain Hilly Munson, had two children and worked in adult education for four years.
It was not until Munson turned 40 that she went back to graduate school to become a librarian. “[June] told me, ‘Judy, your heart is in the library,’” Munson said, quoting her elderly neighbor, June Page. That was the push she needed. She still thanks Page, who was instrumental in Munson’s decision to pursue library science. Initially, she wanted to be a reference librarian in an academic library since she had already worked with children in her former career.
But watching Munson in the children’s section of the Kingston Free Library, it’s clear she made the right decision to stay with the little ones. Her eyes light up as she talks about weekly story time or the relationships she has made with parents.
On average, Munson spends 40 or 50 percent of her time with the children. The rest of the time she plans programs for them, about 95 percent of which is book-related. This past week, she planned an arts and crafts day for author Tedd Arnold’s birthday, and helped the children make paper bag puppets of the character from his book, “Hi, Fly Guy.”
Over the years, Munson has seen the effect technology has had on reading. Although she appreciates her Kindle, and admits technology makes it easier to find books in reference, she sticks to her old-school roots when it comes to reading to children.
“I like some of the technology, I just don’t like the age some of these kids are being introduced to it,” Munson said. “It’s been shown that it’s not good for them. Let [the kids] handle the book. Let them discover on their own. I think they read better when they come into the library.”
As the digital age evolves, she said story time has become more important than ever. She tells parents to try to stay away from story time apps and to open a book instead. For Munson, a lot of her job is helping children learn to love to read.
“One of the most fun things we did was a sleepover years ago at the Peace Dale Library,” a group effort of the youth services programs at Kingston Free, Peace Dale and Robert Beverly Hale libraries. It was a special moment for her to see the children in their sleeping bags on the floor after the lights went out for bedtime reading to each other by flashlight. Moments like that fill her with gratitude for the work she has done.
She and her husband Hilly made the decision to retire five years ago. Now that they are both at that point, they will spend time traveling to Seattle to visit their son. Their daughter also lives in South Kingstown and is a librarian in Warwick. Munson also hopes to travel to Ireland, England and Wales. Her Italian heritage is important to her, but she said growing up in the Fifth Ward in Newport, she developed a strong affinity to Ireland through her many Irish friends. All she needs to do now, she said, is convince her husband of her dream vacation.
“I’m always reading, but I’ll be reading a little bit differently,” Munson said. As a youth services librarian, she read many books for juveniles and young adults. Munson said each room of her house is scattered with half-read books, and although she doesn’t mind that, now she’ll have more time to finish them and explore her favorite genre, historical non-fiction.
Her last two weeks at Kingston Free Library have been emotional, she said. As the final day approaches, children have been coming to say goodbye.
“It’s the people who make the library. It’s the building, it’s the books, but it’s really the people, the patrons and the staff,” Munson said.
Her coworkers are like family, but she is certain she will continue to see them, as well as the children she has watched grow up in the library over the years.
“When I look at the [newspaper], I look at the honor rolls and I see so many kids who have come through here and I say, ‘I hope I had a little to do with that,’” Munson said.
The impact is reciprocal. She can recall the fun moments the young library patrons have given her within seconds.
“I hope my legacy is that the library is not just a fun place, but a warm, happy place, and a place families want to come to to enjoy the books, the music, the movies and programming we offer them,” Munson said.
Without her there, she is sure the library will continue to hold its magic.
Munson said it is time to hand things over to the next youth services librarian, a position that will be filled soon.