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Examiner
  • Longtime librarian says goodbye to Mid-Continent after 38 years

  • The idea of working as a librarian never entered Peggy Henry’s mind until she visited a library one day with her future husband.

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  • The idea of working as a librarian never entered Peggy Henry’s mind until she visited a library one day with her future husband.
    “I was just sitting around, watching the reference librarians,” Henry says, “and, like, a light bulb went off. I thought, ‘I could do that.’”
    She laughs. “It just seemed like a real interesting idea.”
    It wasn’t a career, she says, that she expected to span nearly four decades within the same library system. Earlier this month, Henry retired after a 38-year tenure with Mid-Continent Public Library. From June 1977 through Jan. 31, Henry served as the North Independence Branch manager, making her the longest serving manager of that branch since its founding in May 1947.
    Following her graduation from Emporia (Kan.) State University in May 1973, Henry “worked and worked and worked” at putting out résumés “the old-fashioned way” on a typewriter. The American studies major soon found work as a reference librarian in the Mid-Continent Public Library system.
    Though they are mostly obsolete today, Henry, 62, remembers the once-familiar sight of card catalogs.
    “We just had these cards all the time that had to be filed,” she says, laughing, “so, in my spare time, I would work on that. The one thing that was nice about the card catalog was you could have all kinds of people pulling out drawers and sticking them on the top, looking for books. But, that’s about the only thing that it had going for it.”  
    In the mid-1980s, Henry was part of a team that traveled to libraries in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland to look at choices for MCPL’s first computerized catalog/checkout system. That technologically advanced conversion began in June 1986.
    Just as the technology changed during Henry’s career, so did the bricks-and-mortar of the North Independence Branch. The branch relocated to 317 W. U.S. 24, a former A&P supermarket, in late 1972. In 1989, a significant addition took place, expanding the branch from nearly 18,000 square feet to nearly 46,000 square feet.
    Then, in 1996, the genealogy addition was built, where that collection would remain until the opening of Midwest Genealogy Center in the spring of 2008.
    But one of the biggest changes during Henry’s MCPL career, she says, occurred from late 2009 through late 2010 when the North Independence Branch temporarily relocated its operations to a portion of the former Independence Regional Health Center.
    The move took place because the North location received a total facelift as a “destination library.” But construction also was taking place at the old Health Center as it was revamped as the Independence Regional Ennovation Center.
    “There was always something going wrong because it was a construction site,” says Henry of relocating to the former hospital, remembering one day when all of the branch’s data lines were accidentally cut. “It was a challenging time – we were just on top of each other. It was so cozy ... it was so small that we all got to know each other better and it broke down some barriers between the different groups of people.”
    Page 2 of 2 - As the new North Independence manager, former Parkville MCPL branch manager Tammy Parrott says she wants to continue a mentor role for staff members just like Henry and help them grow professionally.
    Parrott says she also wants to grow the youth outreach that Henry started at the North branch, adding, “There are so many opportunities for fostering the literacy in the area.”
    Years ago, Henry’s influence molded one child who would go on to hold the top administrative position in the library system.
    “Peggy is a very important person to me,” says Steven Potter, director of libraries for MCPL who grew up attending the North Independence Branch. “Before we ever met, she was my librarian. She was the person responsible for buying all the books that I read when I was growing up. She was responsible for the collection of magazines and newspapers that fueled many weekend debate tournaments that I participated in when I was growing up.
    “And, when I took my first job as a librarian at MCPL, Peggy was a good mentor to me. She helped me learn what was important in serving the public. I will always be grateful for her service to the people and even more grateful for her efforts to help me become a good librarian.”
    Henry says she originally wanted to spend at least 40 years with Mid-Continent Public Library, but later changed her mind.
    “It was just time for a change. It just was,” she says. “I decided the 40 wasn’t that important to anybody. It’s a nice, round number, but that’s all.”  
    On Wednesday, after reflecting back on her career, Henry lingered at the North Branch checkout counter, visiting with several of her former co-workers.
    “Go home and relax,” one of them finally said to her, pointing outside at the rainy day. “It’s a good day to stay in and read.”

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