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Librarian closes book on career
LITTLE BOSTON — Suzanne Jones has spent three decades helping Little Boston grow up.
“There are members on the tribal council now who used to come to our story times,” the Little Boston Library branch manager said. “Now they have kids that come to our story times.”
Jones retires from her post with Kitsap Regional Library on Aug. 19. Tomi Whalen, who manages youth services at Regional Library branches in Little Boston, Kingston and Silverdale, will take over as branch manager.
As a branch manager, Jones guided the Little Boston Library’s growth from an A-frame shack to the modern branch used by Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe members and residents from Hansville and surrounding towns.
“I think Sue was the reason the library was successful in this community,” said Kelly Baze, a council member and Youth Program Manager for the tribe who remembers going to story times as a child in the first Little Boston Library. “She had strong ties within the community. She wasn’t an outsider.”
Jones arrived in Little Boston in 1974 when she married her husband, Floyd, a tribal member and wood carver. The same month the couple married, a library opened in a tiny building off Little Boston Road. The new regional library branch was the first public library to open on an Indian reservation in Washington State.
Two years later, Suzanne Jones took over as the library’s only employee. The 600-square-foot building had space for a few shelves and a loft just big enough for children’s puppet shows and story times. It was open 10 hours a week.
The library grew with the community and in 1989 moved into a larger building, built using grant money secured by the tribe. The new building allowed the library to expand its circulation and hours.
In 1999 the success of the Little Boston Library caught the attention of the Public Library Association, which named the branch the best small library in the United States and Canada. U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee announced the award to the congressional record, noting that, though the library was located on a reservation, it had become a place for all North End residents to mingle.
Whalen, who has worked for the Regional Library system for 20 years, said the award had everything to do with Jones’ knack for friendly service.
“She’s one of the sweetest people you can meet, you can ask any of her patrons,” Whalen said. “That’s where I learned customer service.”
North America’s best small library wasn’t done growing.
Circulation at the Little Boston branch ballooned by 680 percent between 1989 and 2001, according to the library’s website. Soon it outgrew its second building. The library moved again in 2007, spreading into a brightly lit, 2,700-square-foot building in the tribe’s House of Culture complex. Six staff members now tend to customers and organize shelves. The library still hosts programs for children and adults and has built a Native American section that includes 700 titles and a copy of the Point No Point Treaty.
Over 30 years and three buildings, the friendly atmosphere created by Jones hasn’t changed, Baze said.
“A lot of our kids don’t go their as much as they should, probably. But it’s very welcoming,” Baze said. “They really reach out to people when they come in.”
Several years ago Jones decided she would step down as manager at age 65 – a milestone she’ll mark the day after her retirement party. She is eager to spend more time with her husband and said she’ll miss working with her patrons and employees.
Jones said Whalen’s familiarity with the community will help her move smoothly into the manager position.
Whalen recently earned a degree in library and information science from the University of Washington and previously worked at the Little Boston branch for 11 years. She’s excited to bring more programs to the library and reach out to new patrons.
Whalen won’t, however, try to fill Jones’ shoes.
“That’s impossible,” Whalen said. “I’m just going to keep up the excellence in service and be the best manager I can be.”