As a children’s librarian at Penn Lake Library in Bloomington, Anne Johnson could bring books to life. And on Tuesday, after 49 years with the Hennepin County Library system, she retired after hosting her final story time for a group of delighted young children.
“You never know what they’re going to absorb, what they’ll take away and how you’ll change their lives,” said Johnson, 65.
Most of the 41 branches in the Hennepin County system have story times, but Johnson is a master of the craft.
On Tuesday morning, she led the toddlers through an array of books, songs and cheers. She grabbed their attention with dramatic readings in which dinosaurs roared, cows mooed and ducks quacked.
She encouraged the kids to flip along through their books and model the act of reading, even if they were too young to understand the words on the page. They floated across the room and bounced on their mothers’ laps, singing along to “Wheels on the Bus” and twirling their fingers during “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
“I just want to make it fun and enjoyable,” Johnson said, taking pride in the organized chaos she created.
“I want them to have the passion for reading and passion for learning that I do.”
Johnson’s relationship with Hennepin County libraries started as a child, when her parents would take her to the family’s home branch in Brooklyn Center. She volunteered at the library as a 15-year-old Girl Scout, and got a job there a year later.
She transferred to the St. Louis Park Library in 1976 and then the Ridgedale Library in 1990, where she became a part-time youth services librarian. She said the enthusiasm and positive attitudes of the children were infectious.
She joined the staff at the Penn Lake branch in 1995, running book clubs, reading for special needs students and hosting story times.
At the end of Tuesday’s story time, Johnson read a story called “Wave Goodbye” and finished on a positive note, singing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands” with the children.
Heidi Koski, who was there with her 2-year-old daughter Viola, has brought all four of her children to Johnson’s story time.
“I hope [Johnson] gets time to spend with her family … and to make her own adventures,” Koski said.
Jan Gugino joined the Penn Lake branch as a librarian around the same time as Johnson. She lauded Johnson’s dependability and her skill in curating the children’s books section.
“She holds this building together,” Gugino said. “She advocates tirelessly for these children and everyone else in this building.”
Another librarian will fill in for Johnson until her replacement is hired, she said. She is looking forward to traveling, gardening and relaxing with family.
Johnson expects to return to the library soon as a volunteer or substitute. Besides, she needs to pick up a few books.
“You can’t get away,” she said with a smile.