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Jeanette Brauner is retiring as Plumas County children’s librarian after 31 years — a simple sentence that says a lot, as generations of children and former children are saddened by her departure.
Brauner’s entry into library work in Plumas County came through a one-time grant, administered by then county librarian Joyce Scroggs.
The grant was intended to fund materials for a “Demonstration Rural Children’s Project.” According to Scroggs at the time, children start losing interest in the library in grades four to five.
To try and reverse that trend, Brauner, who has a master’s in library science from the prestigious U.C.-Berkeley program, was hired to implement an after-school program that encouraged children to get involved in their local libraries.
The kind of hands-on projects that engages children’s senses and reinforces what they read is still a staple for Brauner. As an example, she said “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is a book she often reads to young children.
After the story is finished, she’ll have the children do an art project where they make caterpillars that turn into butterflies.
It’s all very low budget she said — colored paper and imagination are mainstays. The important thing is that “it has an educational component, where (children) use their hands, eyes, minds — all their senses.”
Brauner comes to her love of books through hard won experience. She wasn’t a reader as a child. In fact, she didn’t even know what a library was until one day, at the age of 10, when she went into a library in North Hollywood to use the pay phone.
She looked around and saw rooms full of books — a whole new world for her. Brauner said she was too shy to ask for help, but she found where the newly returned books were shelved and went through these looking for titles that she “might want to take home.”
She got herself a library card, and her love of reading began. “That was the seed,” she said.
Still, she grew up thinking she wasn’t smart. “I was lost at school,” said Brauner.
Characteristic of her positive outlook, she sees the bright side of this experience. “For kids who can’t seem to ‘get it,’ I feel like I can be a role model for what can happen when they discover books.”
Brauner also said it never occurred to her to be a librarian, “but life takes its turns.” While at library school, she dreamed of working at U.C.-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, which is an archive for rare books.
When that didn’t happen, she thought she’d be a reference librarian. With her husband, who is an engineer for the Forest Service, she found herself in Fresno. There, she worked at the county library, primarily answering adult patrons’ questions and helping them find fiction titles that they’d enjoy.
With the inevitable budget cuts that have become a given in Brauner’s career, she had to shift to a different area. She was given a choice between the children’s room — which was as big as the entire Plumas County Library — or the reference desk, which in Fresno primarily involved helping businessmen with financial questions. There, Brauner’s children’s library experience began.
Life’s turns took Brauner through Plumas County on a vacation. “This is where I’d love to live,” Brauner told her husband. As a geotechnical engineer, he was able to negotiate a job with the Forest Service that allowed them to move to Quincy.
Brauner said when they came in 1978 there was no place to live, not even a rental. They lived in motels and even their car. She said when winter came she was really questioning her decision.
She started volunteering at the county library. Then came the grant and her first paid library job. Brauner said during her entire career, there were only a couple of years where her job wasn’t in jeopardy due to financial shortfalls.
Somehow she weathered them all to create a 31-year legacy. She thanked both Scroggs and Ross Olmstead, county librarian in the 1990s, for helping to make sure she had a job in the tough times.
Now, as the children of children she first read to say goodbye, Brauner reflects on the meaning of a career that allowed her to share her love of books with children.
No one offers the services that the library does she said. The library is focused on imparting a love of books to children.
It can’t replace school libraries though, and Brauner laments the loss of school librarians in the county. It has affected her job in that she’s had to split her meager budget and order more non-fiction than she used to.
School libraries are tied to curriculum and are essential she said.
By the same token, public libraries can offer children a breadth and depth of literature unencumbered by school requirements.
Asked what she plans to do in retirement, Brauner shrugged and said simply, “My life’s an open book.”
Many of her friends have been sick or died recently, and she wants to do some living while she can. She finds it hard to imagine not being at the library, however. She figures she’ll probably volunteer in the schools.
Brauner also teaches yoga, and she said she plans to start offering a youth yoga class.
Finally, Brauner said when she arrived in Plumas County she didn’t have any children of her own and didn’t really know much about them. Now, she says she sees children as the heart of the library’s mission, which is to teach the love of books. It’s a lifelong process; it has been for Brauner. She’s had the ability to start many young lives on that road as well.
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