Gwen Schmitt has cataloged her last book.
After 24 years of service with the Oakdale Joint Unified School District, the Sierra View Librarian has closed this chapter of her life’s novel.
“I’m ready for the next chapter,” Schmitt said days before her final exit. “I really don’t know what that will be at this point in time, but I’m not worried.”
It’s a career which Schmitt shared she did not seek out, yet somehow found her 24 years ago when her children Dave and Katie were attending Fair Oaks Elementary School. Active as the Parent Club President, she was approached by the school principal about a three hour job opportunity in the school library.
“At that time our library and computer lab employees were two, three hour jobs and they split the time,” she said. “Mrs. Adams was the principal and she said, “You’d be really good at that” and not one fiber of my being is the caricature or stereotype of a librarian. Even less then, than now.”
A blunt and self-aware individual, Schmitt openly shared she had little filter at the time and was never one that particularly loved children. Yet she loved books and her children, so the idea of working three hours a day while her children were in class seemed ideal.
“I thought I’d do it until they were out of (elementary) school and then I’d do something else,” she said. “But then you really realize how important it is to be here for things.”
In a short time what began as a three hour gig, morphed to a seven hour full-time assignment and as her children grew and blossomed, so too did Schmitt. Fourteen years ago when construction began on Sierra View Elementary, she was approached by incoming Principal Terri Taylor to join her as librarian of Oakdale’s newest elementary site.
“It was just amazing,” she said of being involved with the planning of the district’s newest library at the time. “I got to do it from the blueprints up. I got to erase lines, I got input on all of that. Then I had the whole summer to make it mine.”
It was a decision that did not come easily for Schmitt after years of not just serving 10 years as librarian, but serving the role as mom as well. The staff of Fair Oaks had become family and the space had become a second home. Yet, not one to be afraid of change, Schmitt made the move.
“It was hard because I had to take it not knowing what teachers were going to come,” she said of Taylor offering positions to senior staff in the district. “Those teachers had become my people. They were my work family. It was one of those things where she was trying not to pilfer, but if they had seniority they got to come.”
As time unfolded and each of the new team joined, a new work family formed and more memories were made. Fourteen years after entering the once blank canvas, Schmitt looks to all the walls with fond memories and stories.
Looking around the space at the love and attention put into every corner, Schmitt reads a quote which first greets the library visitors, “Then he laid down close by and whispered with a smile I love you right up to the moon and back.”
“When I read that it brings a tear to my eye,” she said.
“Probably because I’m as old as I am and you get to a point in your life when you realize that, you’ve lived longer than you’re going to live,” she said of the emotion which becomes evident as she speaks. “I feel like we’re living on borrowed time anyway, every day is a blessing for us because we’ve been through it.”
As a cancer survivor, Schmitt recognizes the fragile state of not just life but each day one is given. Now as she looks to the future, memories to be made with her husband, her children, her grandson and friends she becomes excited.
“I love to travel,” she shared. “I’m going to love the freedom to be able to do it whenever I want and not stick it in a school year vacation.”
The librarian also said the day arrived sooner than she thought.
“I don’t feel old enough,” she said on retirement. “I’m not quitting and calling it retirement. PERS is actually going to pay me.”
The timing of 24 years versus 25 or later was largely in part to an early retirement bonus, offering the librarian the ability to move on to the next chapter just shy of the age of 60.
“It’s hard for me to believe I’m that old. The fun thing is that they pay you to not work,” she shared of the career which she literally stumbled into.
In 24 years of service, Schmitt has witnessed much transition, as well as change not just within the district but within the student body and parenting as well.
“In students in general,” she said of the biggest change since starting her career 24 years ago, “it used to be the parents considered the teachers right and took the teachers side of it and would come and listen to the student. Now that’s not the case, it’s like everybody should be friends. It’s just a different culture.”
Of the things she feels she’ll miss the most, reading aloud comes to the front of her mind. The notion of having the audience in the palm of her hand as she takes them through the pages of a chosen book. For it is her love of books and sharing the words which has been the backbone of Schmitt’s career with the students.
“Please don’t ever think that the library is a place that can be done away with,” Schmitt said when asked for final thoughts. “That it’s a place where you can save money by not having it. That hurts me. Just being able to allow students to come to a place to get a book who don’t have access to books … it’s been a great ride and I could have never imagined, ever, this career. It’s been awesome, it’s been wonderful.”