A love of librariesJoan Larson is not always an open book. Some people call her Pollyanna – she says she is optimistic. Some may think she is intellectual – she says she’s practical and pragmatic.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
Joan Larson is not always an open book.
Some people call her Pollyanna – she says she is optimistic. Some may think she is intellectual – she says she’s practical and pragmatic. Some think she’s liberal – others say she’s conservative.
“I’ve been described lots of ways,” said Larson, a retired Alexandria resident. “I’m interested in a lot of different things.”
But no description would be complete without listing one quality – Joan Larson loves libraries. She loves being in them, she loves the knowledge that they impart and the fact that it is free to all, she loves working at them and she loves the atmosphere. Not only has the library been her passion, it ended up being her career.
“I just love libraries,” Larson said.
Larson grew up in Alexandria and graduated from Alexandria High School in 1947. That summer she married Myron and throughout the years, the couple lived in several locations in the U.S. with his career in the Minnesota forest service and the border patrol. She put her education on hold while she stayed home with their two children.
No matter where they lived, Larson always sought out the library. While in Montana, she was such a frequent visitor to the local library that one day, she was offered a job as the librarian.
“You didn’t have to have college,” she explained. “That was a good introduction to librarianship. It wasn’t too long until I figured it out.”
After yet another move to northern Maine, she earned a bachelor’s degree and eventually a master’s degree in library science at the University of Maine and accepted a position as assistant librarian at the University of Maine.
Through all their travels, the Larsons returned to Alexandria every summer to their cabin on Lake Ida. When Myron retired, they moved back to the area, and Joan accepted a position as a faculty librarian at South Dakota University and commuted weekly to Brookings.
Wanting to get a job closer to the area, in 1983 she accepted her final and most beloved job as the director of the Northern Lights Library Network.
“I was so fortunate to find work that I like,” she said. “It wasn’t work, it was pleasure.”
The multi-county library network was headquartered in Detroit Lakes, so Larson commuted for a few years. Because the job involved so much travel around the 23-county area and to St. Paul, she eventually moved her office to Alexandria.
Larson loved her job so much, that she didn’t retire until eight years ago, at age 72. But that hasn’t stopped her from working with the library, continually improving her education and staying involved.
She is on the board of the Douglas County Friends of the Library; belongs to the Minnesota Library Association (of which she was once president), American Library Association and Minnesota Educational Media Organization; has been on the board of directors for the Minnesota Association for Library Friends for 10 years; is currently working on updating a database of the Friends of the Library groups in Minnesota; and helped orgainze a local branch of the American Association of University Women, a group that believes in education throughout a woman’s lifetime.
In October, Larson was honored with the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Minnesota Library Association “in recognition of distinguished service to the profession and for active and innovative leadership in the development of libraries and the improvement of library service.”
She also finds time to spend with her two children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. And she spends most days at Knute Nelson with her husband, Myron, with whom she is as much in love today as she was when she married him 62 years ago.
But if you ask her how she manages to do it all, she modestly grins, knocks on wood and still insists that she’s just fortunate.
“Basically, I’m an optimistic person. I always try to look for the best in everything,” she concluded. “I’ve been really lucky. Life is good. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been good.”