Got books?

Published 9:50 am Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Age: 60

Residence: Albert Lea

Livelihood: clerk for 40 years at the Albert Lea Public Library

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Family: husband, Jerry; sons Marc and Matt; and four grandchildren.

Interesting fact: Her own favorite authors are Debbie Macomber, Dorothy Garlock and Barbara Delinsky. Also, her own father, Stuart Evenson, was one of her library delivery volunteers for a number of years.

When Gail Rasmussen graduated from high school in 1967, she knew she wanted to get into library work as a career. She just ended up where she wanted to be a little sooner than she’d expected.

She attended college for a year and a quarter then ran out of funds, so she applied for an opening at the new Albert Lea Public Library, which had opened in the summer of 1968.

Because she had previous experience and had worked at the old Carnegie Library while in high school, she was hired and began working full time on Jan. 6, 1969.

“I was single at the time, so I worked four nights a week keeping the children’s room open,” Rasmussen recalled.

But over the last 40 years, she’s worked in all parts of the library — wherever she was needed. She coordinates volunteers to make deliveries to senior apartments and nursing homes, checks in magazines and registers patrons and helps out wherever she can.

Over her 40 years of employment, there have been a number of ways patrons could check out books. There was a filing system by date the book was due. Then there was a charging machine and cards with metal plates. Then books were stamped with the date. Now, there’s a scanning system.

“It’s changed for the better every time,” Rasmussen said of the new technologies.

She also worked with the old card catalog.

“It didn’t break my heart too much when we got rid of it,” she said with a smile.

The advent of microfilm was also a welcome change. No longer did they have to lift the heavy bound volumes of newspapers, she said.

One of the biggest changes came two years ago, when the library underwent a much-needed expansion and renovation. “We had so much support,” she said. “We did a lot of the work (in rearranging and moving) ourselves, but we had good help, and that made a huge difference.”

The project expanded the children’s room to more than twice the previous size. The whole library was made more user-friendly and there were more computers for everyone to use, Rasmussen said.

On the 40th anniversary of when she began working at the library, the staff threw her a surprise party. That morning, she commented to a fellow city worker that she’d been there 40 years, and she probably should have brought treats. But her co-workers had taken care of that.

The volunteers Rasmussen works with through the delivery program for senior apartments and nursing homes were invited, as were other city staff and retirees and her family members.

For Rasmussen’s co-workers, hosting the party was a joy.

Sandy Soli, who has worked with Rasmussen for 7 and 1/2 years, said she always enjoys working with Rasmussen. “She’s so pleasant and so cooperative,” Soli said. “She’s done just about any job a clerk can do here.”

Clerk Dani McClellan has worked with her for four years. “She’s a lot of fun,” she said of Rasmussen. “She’s a sweetheart and it’s been great working with her.”

Donna Henrikson has worked with Rasmussen for 2 and 1/2 years and said she has learned a lot from her. “She’s a delight. She’s always helpful. She’s a good teacher, always patient,” Henrikson said.

Rasmussen said that’s just the way it is. “We’re like a small family. We help each other where we can.”

For her, the 40 years have flown by. “It makes a difference if you work where you want to be,” she said. “

She enjoys her interaction with library patrons as well. “And we get first glance at new books — which can be an occupational hazard,” she admitted.

She’s also seeing second generations of library patrons. “I didn’t feel old until I started to see the kids of the kids I used to babysit,” she said.

When she’s not working at the library or reading for her own enjoyment, Rasmussen likes to do needlepoint and crocheting. She’s now working on making Christmas stockings for her grandchildren, a tradition started by her mother.