Final chapter for East Portland’s top librarian

Learn what Carolyn Schell, manager of Midland Library, shared with us as she talked about her tenure in East County, and what she says she’ll miss the most after she retires‚

One of duties Carolyn Schell, retiring manager of Midland Library, says she loves the most is “Story Stop” with young kids.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
After 17 years at the Multnomah County Library’s Midland Library in SE 122nd Ave., retiring manager Carolyn Schell said she’s seen a lot of changes‚ both in outer East Portland and in the library.

Before she shelved her last book, and gave her last “Story Stop” for little kids on May 29, Schell sat down with us to talk about her love of libraries, but most of all, helping children gain an appreciation for books.

“Although I tried teaching,” Schell related, “I soon realized it was not my calling. I was interested in books and libraries. I got an MLS [Masters in Library Science] from University of Oregon because I knew what I wanted to be‚ a librarian.”

Schell said she started her career working part-time in 1968, and worked as Children’s Librarian. “After ten years, I became a full-time librarian and worked at many different library branches.”

Librarian Schell has seen many changes in outer East Portland.

Watches Midland branch grow
In 1990, Schell was assigned to outer East Portland’s Midland Branch of the Multnomah County Library. “It was about one-third the size of our new building. It was too small for all the patrons we served.”

A few years later, the County funded a new library building on the same site as the old one. “I was part of the building committee. It was a wonderful experience. We involved the public, had a great architect and hard-working building committee.”

Observes technology’s explosion
From her “window on the world” the library, Schell says she watched as outer East Portland grew and matured.

“The biggest change has been in the use of technology,” Schell said. “In fact, this is the biggest change across the library system. When I first started here, there were no computers. Then, we installed one computer for the checkout system‚ but still had none for the public. Not even for the reference librarians had a computer.”

But, when they built the new library building, provision was made for public computer terminals. “That was in 1995,” Schell recalls. “Since that time, computer usage has taken off. The public loves them.”

The Midland Library manager says she’s proud how they’ve kept up with the changing needs of outer East Portland residents.

Meeting the needs of changing demographics
“The demographics of the neighborhoods we serve have changed somewhat,” Schell pointed out. “Now, we have many immigrant families who use the library. Russians, Spanish-speaking patrons‚ people from all over the world use the Midland Library. We now have a very diverse population, and we’re changing our programs and offerings to meet these needs.”

Considering other demographic shifts, Schell said that, in 1990, the patrons were predominantly women looking for books. “Now we see as many men as women‚ they’re using the computers. We’ve always had a lot of teenagers. And, we’ve always served many senior citizens‚ now, we even offer computer classes especially for them.”

The importance of libraries
Most important thing about being a librarian to Schell, she told us, is making sure everyone has access to all information.

“It is part of our democracy. “If people didn’t have public libraries, our citizens wouldn’t have access to free information‚ of all kinds. Where would people get it? The library is a place where people can come and find out information they want to know. This is a very powerful concept.”

But the library offers more than books and computers, Schell said. “The library system prides itself in providing educational and cultural entertainment for our patrons.

More than a librarian
During her time at Midland, Schell didn’t confine herself to the stacks and help desk. She was active in the Gateway Area Business Association‚ serving on the board, and as president. She also was a founding member of the Midway Business Association where she served as secretary.

Behind the library is Midland Park; Schell worked with the “Jane’s Park Group” to help “make the park a safe and nice place for people to enjoy.”

Through her volunteerism in association with these organizations, Schell touched the lives of many people outside the library and helped her community thrive.

“Of all my duties, I think I’ve enjoyed doing ‘Story Stop’ for young people the most,” Schell told us.

Lasting memories
After she introduced us to the library’s new manager, Javier Gutierrez, we asked Schell what memories she’ll cherish about her time at Midland.

“I enjoy the interactions with everyone,” Schell said. “But some of the most fun are with the children.

“I’m lucky I can still do ‘Story Stops’ here. I love doing them. Just today, a little boy was so excited. ‘Oh, wait! Can I tell my mother what a fun story that was!’ he exclaimed For me, that’s part of what libraries are all about‚ getting kids hooked on books and reading when they’re little. Then, you know they’ll be readers their whole lives.”

On behalf of our community, we thank you, Carolyn, for your service‚ and enduring smile.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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