After earning a college degree in education in 1978, Melody Larson took a full-time job at East Grand Forks Campbell Library because there were no full-time teaching jobs at that time.
She worked at the library for 43 years because she loves helping people, especially children, discover books and the joys of reading, she said.
Larson, who is retiring next week, has become well-known – and appreciated – for keeping a mental catalogue of patrons and each one’s particular taste in books.
Offering a book she has specially selected for someone “is like a kid getting a sucker and just can’t wait to get more,” said Larson, an East Grand Forks native.
“Out in public, a patron will ask me a question (about a book), and I’ll say, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll look for it when I get back to work.’ ”
“She remembers everybody’s name, absolutely,” said Charlotte Helgeson, the library’s director for 27 years, “and she can tell me what family they’re connected to. When I was brand new here, she was amazing at being able to connect people, and she still can. She’s just really good at that.”
Such a talent is a definite plus when it comes to serving patrons.
“We’re a small enough library that if we have a project or even if a book comes in, she knows exactly who might be interested, who might help us with volunteering, or who might want a certain title,” Helgeson said. “So as more and more people come in, and younger and younger families come in, that of course has expanded.”
Among those families and others who attended her retirement reception Thursday, July 8, were Brian Larson and his children, Max, 8, and Alice, 4, of East Grand Forks. They have been frequent visitors for Story Time, a regular program at which Melody Larson reads to children.
“My kids have been coming to the library for Story Time since they were toddlers,” Brian said.
“I like the books,” Alice said when asked about the best part of Story Time.
Brian and Holly Larson are “big supporters of East Grand Forks library,” he said. “My wife and I are great readers. It’s great to have a library in town to be able to share that with the kids.”
Sue Rackl, who has known Melody Larson for almost 45 years, traveled from her home in Sioux Falls, S.D., to attend her retirement party Thursday, July 8. The two met when Rackl was working for the city of East Grand Forks as clerk treasurer.
At the library, Larson “has done almost every job in the book,” Rackl said. “She’s been a constant there. It is quite unusual for a person to work that long (at one place).”
At age 14, Larson began working at the library after school; she continued through junior high, high school and college, she said.
At UND, she earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary and early childhood education, with a minor in library science, in December 1977. At the time, UND only offered a minor in library science. She started working at the library the next month.
The job was appealing because “I could still work with the public and with children, and handle all of these awesome materials – DVDs, VHS (tapes) and artwork.”
She visited East Grand Forks schools, where she read books to students and told them about programs available at the library.
Larson, who turned 65 in June, has seen the library move to several locations in the city and witnessed how the Flood of '97 “completely changed everything,” she said. Post-flood, she participated in planning the new library.
People who see her out in public often ask, “Do you remember me?” she said. “Of course, I do. And they’re wanting to introduce their children to me.”
She enjoys that bond, probably nurtured by her calming and comforting Mr. Rogers-like demeanor. Since there are so many children she has read to during Story Time, “I continue to see them through living in town,” she said.
Larson also remembers vividly the day she got a phone call from the police department informing her the library’s director, Bob Campbell, had collapsed suddenly and died, she said, “and how I had to walk into that role and how I was up to the challenge.”
Most enjoyable, though, has been interacting with children, she said. “They’re so natural, so huggable, and so free. When you’re reading to them, you’ve got their whole attention.”
Getting books into the hands of a patron she knows will be interested in it, “it’s Christmas every day and you get to share that knowledge.”
Considering the technological advances that have reshaped how people use libraries, she said, “It’s a little different, but you adapt.”
‘She’s done it all’
Director Helgeson is clearly appreciative of all that Larson has done to carry out the library’s mission of serving the public.
“She is the first one to arrive at the library every day,” she said. “She is an early person, so she’s here before the library opens and gets everything ready, because she likes it done a certain way.”
The roles and tasks that Larson has performed at the library may be too numerous to mention.
“With libraries our size, you get to do a lot of different jobs, and right now a big part of her focus is cataloguing and preparing materials,” Helgeson said. Over the years, “she’s done it all.”
“She’s been the circulation librarian, she’s done Story Time, she has been interim director a couple of different times,” Helgeson said. “She just worked with the Friends group and did the book sale.
“She’s shoveled snow,” the director added with a chuckle.
Working at the library for nearly five decades, Larson has made a lasting impression, Helgeson said.
“When someone’s been here this long, you know, when someone thinks of the library, they think of Melody.”