Johnson Celebrates Milestone at Piggott Library

Thursday, October 13, 2016
Piggott Library Director Gay Johnson in the familiar surroundings of the local facility during last week's celebration.(TD photo/Tim Blair)

A special milestone was celebrated last week at the Piggott Public Library, as Director Gay Johnson marked the completion of 35 years of service--and the start of her 36th. In the decades she has served the community at the library, she has seen many changes and has served several generations of local readers.

In recognition of the special occasion, her co-workers hosted an informal open house, welcoming patrons with popcorn and a display of photos of Johnson from her years at the local facility. She also took time to sit down and talk about her time at the library, and how she came to call the Piggott area home.

"I am originally from Wabash, Ark., which is down south around Elaine, in the Helena-West Helena area. I graduated from there and I went to college at ASU," she explained. " I came to the area because I married the brother of one of my good friends at college. I used to tease her that I was going to marry her brother, so that we'd always be friends and always see each others, and I did--but, not for that reason."

Husband Glenn is a native of the Pollard area, and marrying him also provided Johnson with a large extended family as he is the oldest of 10 children. As for her family background, it sheds a lot of light on her choice of vocations.

"After college I worked as a substitute teacher in an elementary school, and helped out some in the library. In fact, my grand mother was a librarian, my mother is a teacher, my grandfather was superintendent of schools and my other grandfather was chairman of the school board. So, I've had that type of background all my life," she surmises.

Her life took another turn in the early 1980s, as Johnson heard of the job opportunity.

Mrs. (Mildred) Robinson had passed away and they had advertised for a librarian," she explained. "The lady we were renting our house from told me they were advertising for a librarian, and told me since I had some experience I should ask about it. So, I went and applied, and I started on Oct. 5, 1981."

The first several years of her tenure were in the original Piggott Library building, which later served as Attorney John Lingle's office. "I spent the first three years over there in that little cramped building, which was fun and alright--but it was nice to move over here," she remembers of the experience.

The move she referenced came in December of 1984, as the new library building opened to the public.

"They already had the plans, they were already in place when I was hired," she said of the effort. "And, when they broke the ground-from then on is where I came in. We were the ones who put all the stuff in the new building, who decided where everything would go--where the shelves go, where the desks go. It was hard, but it was fun at the same time."

In the nearly 32 years since Johnson has seen the local library continue to grow with the community, and the available technology.

"We went from stamping books and stamping names, to a machine and then computers. We now are all digital with our check-out," she explained. "We also have E-books including a new service, Click-Get-Go, for audio books. This allows library patrons to listen to the book in their car, or on a device, and the E-books are the same way. But, we also have CDs, DVDs, newspaper, magazines and a great genealogy departments that has a lot of great information."

The genealogy department of the local library is a source of great pride for the staff, and those who have invested the thousands of hours researching and gathering the information. It sets a standard many much-larger facilities emulate.

Johnson is also quick to note that no matter how things change, they still remain the same in the library business.

"Something new we're offering now are jigsaw puzzles, we set one up for people to work on and we've had one put together so far," she offers. "We also have the summer reading program and storytime. Overall, it's the same but it's different--we offer a lot of the same services to people we always have. And, there are some people who have been coming here the whole time I've been here."

She also observed that the library plays various roles for different members of the community.

"It's one of the first places people stop when they move somewhere, and want general information," she adds. "And, I will be honest and tell you we don't always know the answer, but we will find out. If someone asks me a question and I don't know the answer I tell them to give me a bit, and I'll look it up."

Johnson also notes the advent of technology, especially the internet, has brought a number of changes to the job. "This digital age, with the Internet, means you can always find the answer to most questions. It may not be the right one, or on the spur of the moment, but we can find one," she added. "People think the Internet works at just the touch of a button, but it's really just a digital index and it takes a lot of work sometimes."

In looking ahead to the near future, she indicated she feels more changes are in the works. "When you have computers, there's always going to be need for an upgrade," she explained. "The Internet is just getting faster, allowing more information to be accessed. I expect the digital side will continue to grow, while the remainder will stay pretty much the same."

But, regardless of the changes in store Johnson feels there will always be the need for printed materials.

"I've had people ask me if there will ever be a time when there will be no more print books of any kind, and other print materials," she offers. "I tell them no, there is always going to be that person that wants that book in their hands. There are a lot of people who do that, they read their newspapers and magazines on-line. But, still the best thing is to have is that book in your hands."

Now a grandmother, Johnson also maintains the contention that books are the best building blocks for young minds. "The best thing you can do for a child is put a book in their hands, because that starts it all," she surmises. An avid reader throughout her life, she offers that most of her leisure time involved reading, until her grandchildren came along. "Now I like spending time with my grandkids, that's become my new favorite past time."

With 35 years under her belt at the local library, Johnson adds that she does eventually plan to retire someday.

"I am aiming for 40 years," she offers with a smile. "And, by then I'll be of retirement age."

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