Librarian Daniel LaRue retired after 31 years of service at Hamburg Public Library on Oct. 31.
“Dan wore many hats during his library career. Being conversant in several languages, he easily facilitated dialogue and made life easier for patrons from many backgrounds. His knowledge of library science enabled him to easily direct individuals to the resources needed for their personal issues,” wrote Susan Leiby of the Hamburg Public Library Board of Trustees in a release. “As libraries moved into the digital age, Dan taught many clients how to use the computers in the library to further expand their research and personal endeavors.”
“As an avid reader and traveler, Dan possessed a repertoire of knowledge that benefited our patrons even beyond the tangible resources available in the library,” continued Leiby. “His interest in gardening resulted in many beneficial discussions ultimately leading to the development of an annual plant swap that was broadly anticipated in the community.”
LaRue always liked books.
“When I was a child, I was sickly at times and books were my best companions,” he said.
When asked about his favorite book or author, LaRue found it difficult to pick just one so he shared three novels, though he confessed that he reads more non-fiction, especially history, gardening, Reformed and Lutheran theology, and armchair travel books.
One of his favorite authors/books he read for his Spanish major: “Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes. When he studied in Valladolid, Spain his senior year of college, he was delighted to learn that the author’s house “… and the place where he wrote of that mad knight was in that city, so I could visit his home and see his desks and books.”
Another favorite author is JRR Tolkien and his “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The third favorite is Mary Stewart's “Merlin Trilogy” about the man who was the friend and advisor of King Arthur.
LaRue was a student librarian in middle and high school and in college.
“I have recollections of walking to the Lebanon Community Library as a child and knew how to read when I went to 1st grade,” he said. “I believe my father taught me; his factory had burned down and he was home for a year when my mom went to work. I used to play at being a librarian.”
LaRue had a temporary CETA job at the Myerstown Library in Lebanon County for only a year. But it was only after teaching a few years at a school in northern Lebanon County that he really thought of becoming a professional librarian.
“I liked teaching but didn't like the idea of being the ‘enemy’ to my students, so since I had to get a master's degree anyway, and I had started on one in German (I had also a certificate to teach Spanish) I decided to go to Clarion University of Pennsylvania for a master's degree in library science.”
His previous job in the Myerstown library was as a clerk/typist, when there were still typewriters and card catalogs.
“The librarian cataloged the local history collection and following her example, I then typed up the catalog cards. I finished sooner than the year and then just helped with the regular patron check-in and check-out, shelving books, etc.”
Then, he was hired at Hamburg Public Library and started on July 17, 1989.
“Librarians don't become rich in Pennsylvania. The state doesn't appear to value them based on the low financing we seem to get most years. But there is the reward of service in the best sense of the word,” said LaRue. “People are more important than money and possessions and to love people is its best reward, the best part of being a librarian.”
“Then of course, there are the books, always silent and present, but opening new worlds,” he added. “Some of the new technology is wonderful, but it seems cold and sterile when compared to holding a book or smelling a book and making a book your friend as it takes you out of yourself to other places.”
Throughout the year, LaRue arranged for speakers to provide many and diverse free programs of interest to members of the community that were both informative and entertaining.
LaRue especially loved doing programming for teens and adults.
“Some were flops, to be sure, but to see the delight in their faces as they star gazed or exchanged plants, or listened to history speakers such as the one who shot a musket along the Schuylkill River as he talked of the French and Indian War at a time when Hamburg WAS the frontier and Schuylkill County Indian country.”
“By purposefully getting to know the people in our community, he was very effective in selecting library materials relevant to their needs and interests,” wrote Leiby. "Understandably, Dan’s greatest joy as our director has always been connecting with our patrons. He thoroughly enjoyed working at the circulation desk so he could see and get to know the members of our community. Dan quickly learned and remembered not only their names, but also their favorite authors and their reading preferences. He took the time to get to know them. He asked about their families and their pets. He reached out to them in times of need and sadness. He let them know he cared.”
“Paperwork and policies and statistics are necessary, but they bored me. I enjoyed the customers, and they are what I will most miss,” said LaRue. “I liked hearing their histories. I felt that we were like a bar in some respects and I and my staff were bartenders, listening to the histories of the customers, their joys, looking at the photos of their children and pets, but also listening to their sorrows, deaths, troubles where they came in and cried on our shoulders. We attended some of their funerals.”
LaRue told staff to put the patrons first, “We'd have no jobs if not for them.”
“The work and the papers could wait most of the time; it was the people who were important, from the toddlers and children who came for story time, to the elderly who came with their canes and walkers,” he said.
As his last day approached, Leiby said patrons reached out to LaRue to let him know how very special he has been to them through cards, letters, hugs, smiles and tears.
“Our community has greatly benefited from his presence and service. We, the Board of Trustees, wish him a host of wonderful opportunities in his retirement years,” wrote Leiby.
"Dan has made a difference in our community and in our lives. The work he did mattered, but perhaps the relationships he made mattered even more," said Children’s Librarian Becky Hartman. "While we wish Dan the very best in his retirement, we know he will be missed by so many."
During his retirement LaRue hopes to work part-time.
“I don't want to go from full-time employment to nothing. I have hobbies, gardening, cooking, entertaining friends at the house (which the dratted COVID has interrupted), reading, reading some more, freelance writing fiction,” he said.
He started to learn French “since languages are a gift.”
After COVID, LaRue plans to resume traveling, seeing the Civil War battlefields, maybe a trip to Europe as he has German and Spanish friends.
“Just last year I went hiking in the Black Forest with Spanish friends and acted as an interpreter from German to Spanish and back for them. The First World War fascinates me and I'd like to go on a tour... I've seen such tours... that visit the trenches along the Western Front and visit the cemeteries of French, British, American, and German soldiers.”
“Just as Dan is turning the page to his next chapter, so too is our library," said Leiby. "We are fortunate to already have our new librarian, Chelsea Williams, at the helm. We invite you to stop in to get to know Chelsea as well as our other new employee, Ashley Shafer.”