Bee closing chapter at Murphy Helwig Library

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Christine Bee will retire from Monona’s Murphy Helwig Library at the end of March, closing a 25-year chapter in which she served first as children’s librarian, then as the library’s director. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Christine Bee has been a familiar face at Monona’s Murphy Helwig Library since 1993, when she took over as the children’s librarian.

“I’d been a library user my whole life, and I had always attended programs here with my children,” Bee said. “It just felt like home away from home.”

In 1997, Bee became the library’s director, a role through which she oversaw the library’s expansion, as well as countless technological advances. But, like all good stories, this one, too, must come to an end, as Bee enters the retirement chapter of her life at the beginning of April.

Looking back, Bee said she’s enjoyed embracing all the technological changes.

“I’d never used a computer before I worked here,” she admitted. “Then, it kept morphing into more and more things. Everything you do at the library changed from doing it by hand to computers. You either had to sink or swim, and I decided I was going to swim.”

Although books have always been the library’s foundation, and Bee said she doesn’t foresee that changing, technology has just allowed people to soak up even more knowledge.

“People have always read and they will always read,” she said. “But now there are these added things, helping people find information using technology. With the new, online services we offer, you can learn hundreds of languages, you can do any kind of research project. These kinds of enhancements weren’t available when I started.”

Bee said she’s found the library, not just in Monona, but in other communities, as well, now attracts more diverse groups of people. Libraries have become community hubs where patrons can do everything from sharing their talents to learning new skills.

That’s been especially true, said Bee, with Murphy Helwig Library’s monthly coffee house programs, which began around 12 years ago. In that time, there may have been just a couple repeat programs, which is quite a feat for a small library and a small community, Bee commented.

“For a small community, it just shows the talent we have,” she said. “There are so many diverse things going on.”

Bee’s also proud of the fact that the library has continued to be a place where people feel comfortable asking for help. 

Whether it’s researching a topic or learning how to operate a smartphone or tablet, the library has been an important resource for patrons of all ages. Bee even began facilitating a monthly tech help class.

Interacting with library-goers and learning about the topics and books they’re interested in has been one of Bee’s favorite aspects of the job. 

“I got to meet a lot of different types of people. I looked forward to people coming in, then talking to them,” she said. “I love to hear them talk about what they’re reading. Listening to that love of books is what makes someone else want to read it.”

In selecting the library’s books, Bee said she largely considered the diverse interests of the community. She always enjoyed being the first to open the new book boxes when they arrived, mentally noting the books she wanted to read first.

Bee said she’s always been open to a variety of genres.

“It can be a mystery or not, but I always enjoy a good story. I like a lot of character development and unique characters, and I do like a good ending,” she shared. “Some people say you should only read to learn something, and some say you should only read for fun. I think it’s nice when they come together.”

One of the biggest changes Bee oversaw at Murphy Helwig Library was the 2015-2016 expansion, which included a larger space for the children’s collection, a young adult area, meeting room, study room, new furnishings, ADA bathrooms and electrical updates.

“I’m very happy with how it all turned out. I think we made good choices,” she said. “I’m proud of us, as a group, and the community for coming up with the money to move forward with this.”

Although not as flashy as the expansion, Bee said she’s also proud of the policy changes and organizational efforts implemented at the library over the years.

“It’s only with policy that you can have good operations and a plan for the future,” she noted. “We’ve worked hard on meeting the state standards and exceeding those.”

Bee said she’s grateful for the library patrons, board members and staff she’s been able to work with over 25 years. Current children’s librarian Heidi Landt will replace Bee as library director, a move Bee said she couldn’t agree with more.

“I’m glad the board chose her. I don’t think there’s a better person for the job,” she said.

In retirement, Bee said she plans to travel to Ireland with her husband and has signed up to get an Australian Shepherd puppy. She also hopes to hike some of the Clayton County trails she’s never been on and spend more time with her four children and six grandchildren. The library will never be far from her heart.

“I will miss it,” she said. “I thank everybody for the wonderful years of coming in and seeing me.”

To wish Bee well in her retirement, an open house will be held at Murphy Helwig Library on Saturday, March 24, from 10 a.m. to noon. The public is welcome to attend. If you can’t make it to the open house, Bee will still be working at the library the following week.

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