CLARION - Jean Smith better known to the children as "Miss Jean" -- has been serving as the Clarion Public Library Children's Librarian for 28 years and has decided to move on to the next chapter of her life: retirement.
Her passion for reading and teaching helped her to get where she is today.
"I have a degree in elementary education. I worked as a preschool teacher in a couple different daycares and was a substitute teacher," Smith said. "I couldn't get a full-time job at a school."
Smith felt called to teach despite the lack of job availability in the schools at the time.
"One night, I prayed to God and said to him If I'm not supposed to be a teacher, show me what I am supposed to do'," Smith said. "The next morning, I looked in the classified ads in The Clarion News and one ad jumped off the page; a librarian."
She wanted to apply for the job, but a Master's degree in Library Science was preferred, so she was not sure if she should.
Her friend, who was on the board of directors of the library and who Smith previously worked with at Walden Books, encouraged her to apply.
"And the rest is history," Smith said.
There had no children's librarian for a long time when Smith started, so she had to develop a program by herself.
"I never really knew if I was doing it right, but apparently I was," Smith said.
When Smith started as the children's librarian in 1994, nothing was computerized the way it is today.
"We had to stamp the cards with a little metal stamp saying when the book was due and at the end of the day, we filed everything alphabetically," Smith said.
Smith has seen a lot change since then, but it's the people she's met that stay with her. The people are her favorite part of the job.
"When I was a substitute teacher, I really only got to know the kids, but here I get to know the whole family," Smith said.
When Smith was first hired, Halloween was coming up and she was told to have an event at the library.
"The children wore their costumes and we would have different stations where kids could win prizes, and we would tell stories," Smith said. "I also had a holiday album that I would play. There was a song called The Spooky Walk' the children loved."
The kids loved "The Spooky Walk" so much, Smith had it put on a CD.
Another one of Smith's favorite holidays at the library was Christmas.
"We would have a tea party with Mrs. Claus every year. It was my favorite thing I would do for families," Smith said.
To prepare for the tea party, Smith started baking sugar cookies in November and froze them. She would bring frosting and sprinkles with her so the kids could decorate their own snack.
"We would drink tea and hot chocolate, and Mrs. Claus would read to the kids," Smith said.
Working with kids for 28 years gave Smith her fair share of fond memories and funny incidents. One of her favorite memories was when she was doing arts and crafts with the children.
"A googly eye disappeared and we were looking for it. I looked over at one of the kids, who was a baby at the time and asked Did you eat it?' and she looked up at me and smiled," Smith said.
To this day, nobody can say for sure whether the baby ate the googly eye, but it was never seen again.
Smith would also throw parties at the library for Back to School in August, Diversity in January, Valentine's Day in February, Dr. Seuss in March, and Springtime/Easter in April.
Other programs Smith had were Puppy Dog Tales, pajama parties/teddy bear sleepovers, Fun Time Play Group, family programs and like many other libraries, the Summer Reading Program.
Smith also brought in programs being used for children everywhere, such as STEM and STEAM programs, Pennsylvania One Book Early Literacy Program, Cruise Into Kindergarten, 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and Teddy Bear Workshop.
Many of the kids at the library are afraid they will never see Smith again, but she said she is not going anywhere.
"I'm looking forward to getting more involved at my church," Smith said. "And I'll still be around town doing things, like getting a cup of coffee at Michelle's."
Something else Smith will continue with after she retires as children's librarian is Treasure Seekers Story Time.
Smith started this roughly one year ago at the Clarion Bible Fellowship inside the Clarion Mall.
"It's open to all, not just church members," Smith said. "We have stories and crafts and snacks and songs."
On holidays, Smith will even throw parties and show movies.
"It's fun, we have a good time," Smith said.
Treasure Seekers Story Time also includes Bible verses and lessons from them. Volunteers from the church help with it.
"Everyone has their own gifts and talents to bring to things," Smith said.
The group meets at 10 a.m. every third Saturday each month. In the fall, Smith will hold meetings two Saturdays each month.
Smith's other retirement plans are to continue reading to preschoolers and doing devotions with the kids at the YMCA.
"My husband is retired, so I'll spend some time with him. My son lives in Oregon, so we are planning a trip there," Smith said. "And of course there are things I want to do around the house I've been putting off over the years."
Before that, she will have to clear out 28 years of stuff in her office.
"People donate arts and crafts and things that aren't organized,
Smith said, "I still have to figure out what's mine and what belongs to the library."
Smith will continue to encourage children to start reading in her retirement.
"I've just been passionate about getting books in kids' hands at a young age. Books have so much to offer, they make you feel things and give you experiences you otherwise wouldn't be able to have," Smith said.
One of the children's favorite books is "The Book with No Pictures" by B.J. Novak.
"You have to make a fool of yourself to read it and the kids roll on the floor laughing," Smith said. "It's a book they can interact with."
A couple of Smith's favorite books to read to the children are "Red" by Liesel Shurtliff and "Miss Rumphius" by Barbara Cooney.
"Red" is a fractured fairy tale about Little Red Riding Hood. Smith would read it to the older kids from Immaculate Conception School.
"I know this book is good because the kids could tell me in detail what happened in the book from when I read it to them the week before," Smith said.
"Miss Rumphius" is about a girl whose grandpa told her to do something to make the world beautiful.
"I like it for the pictures and it's such a nice, nice story," Smith said.
Smith loves all the books she reads and has a hard time figuring out what her favorite book is.
"When I was in fourth-grade, my teacher read a book to us called Misty of Chincoteague' by Marguerite Henry. It's a book about wild ponies," Smith said.
Smith and her family even went to watch the ponies swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island once.
"That book has always been special to me," Smith said.
Smith also loves making connections between different books.
I read a little romance novel based in Clarion. It was not necessarily well-written, but it led me to read A Girl of the Limberlost' by Gene Stratton-Porter," Smith said.
Smith spent many years going to farmers markets looking for Stratton-Porter novels to read because she discovered how much she loved Stratton-Porter's writing, all thanks to a small romance novel.
Smith's love for reading and educating will not end with her retirement. She is thankful for everyone she has met along the way who made her job as a children's librarian so enjoyable.
"The people I've met are what I like most," Smith said. "It's not just about the kids, it's about the families."