Volunteer Spotlight: Karen Hein

Library Borrowers Make the Best Volunteers

by Mindy Moreland

Picture of Karen Hein

In the summer of 1971, Karen Hein was visiting the Rockwood Library when a sign on the wall caught her eye and changed the course of her life. “Library Borrowers Make the Best Employees,” the poster read. Karen, an avid lover of libraries, thought that this was well worth investigating. Soon after, she was hired on as a clerk at Rockwood (where, she recalls, she earned the princely sum of $1.95 per hour), and so began a 34-year career with Multnomah County Library.  

As she moved up the responsibility ladder,  from branch to branch, Karen served countless patrons and bore witness to the library’s transition into the digital age. She remembers composing seemingly endless lists of children’s books on a typewriter at Central, tells of the delight of a colleague upon successfully transferring files to a (truly floppy) disk for the first time, and remembers overseeing Gresham’s first public internet computers. Today she appreciates the ease with which holds can be processed thanks to RFID, and is exploring the world of digital audiobooks on her iPad.

 

"It's a very comfortable place for me to be. I feel at home."Karen retired as a supervisor from the Gresham branch in October 2005, but that was only one more turning point in her journey with the library, rather than the story’s end. She presently volunteers as a Branch Assistant, and continues to enjoy watching the library grow and change around her.

Although the Gresham branch is Karen’s neighborhood library, she makes a weekly journey to Central, where she spent the lion’s share of her career, to process holds and catch up with former colleagues. Coming to Central lets her take regular advantage of downtown Portland’s shops, movie theaters, and restaurants. A window table at Jake’s Grill is a favorite for a leisurely lunch, though she still mourns the passing of the august Georgian Room at Meier and Frank’s.  

Karen even speaks of the Central building itself like an old friend, fondly recalling hot summer days in the early 1990s before the building underwent renovation, when she could open the Popular Library’s tree-shaded windows to let in a cool breeze. And after so many years together, it seems only natural to drop in weekly to catch up. Karen says that while she understands that many people might find it a bit strange to volunteer at their former place of employment, she’s pleased to have the opportunity to stay involved with a place and an institution she enjoys.

“I like the atmosphere,” Karen says with a smile. “It’s a very comfortable place for me to be. I feel at home.” It seems that Library Borrowers do indeed make the Best Employees … and the Best Volunteers, too.

A Few Facts About Karen

Home library: Gresham Library

Currently reading: The Well-Read Cat by Michèle Sacquin

Most influential book: Into Thin Air by John Krakauer

Favorite book from childhood: Any horse stories by Marguerite Henry

Favorite section of the library: Periodicals

E-reader or paper book? Paper book

Favorite reading guilty pleasure: Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries on audiobook

Favorite place to read: In bed

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

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