POR: Maxine Curley March 15, 2009
“If I would have had children I probably wouldn’t have gone as far here in the children’s center.”
Nature or nurture is no debate with Maxine Curley.
By nature, humans are a peaceful animal. For proof, one need look no further then the children’s section of the Mesa County Library’s main branch, 530 Grand Ave.
Maxine has spent nearly all of her working life — 34 years — here, as the head of children’s services. She retired Feb. 27.
“That’s one of the things you learn about working with young children: They think about others and not themselves. And it is very touching to see that,” Curley said.
That’s what anyone who knows her would expect her to say.
“She sees everything through rose-colored glasses,” said Krystal Carducci, a library assistant.
“She’s just optimistic all the time.”
When Curley first started with Mesa County Libraries in 1975, she was untested and unsure of herself.
“I didn’t know I wanted children’s yet. I had worked with kids, I baby-sat for kids, I am a kid myself, but I didn’t know that is where I wanted to be and needed to be,” she said.
The more she worked with children, the more the fire and the passion inside her grew for the job.
“Gradually as it evolved, doing story times, developing patience with myself, as well as with
the kids, I found this is my niche and no other.”
In 2008 she was awarded the Children’s Services Award from the Colorado Association of Libraries.
“She got the very first one that was ever given,” said Cheryl Moe, an assistant librarian who has worked with Maxine since 1992. (The running joke in the library is that they are two members of the Three Stooges — Curley and Moe.)
The award recognized Curley as a librarian able to converse with the smallest of toddlers and the mightiest of politicians. Her primary concern always was for children, either teaching them to read and find wonder in the written word or teaching grown-ups the value of spending tax dollars on literary programs for the young and old.
Almost the first thing that fell out of Moe’s mouth when asked about her longtime colleague in the children’s section was Curley’s work with parents. Curley, for as much as she loves interaction with children, knows that to reach a child will provide joy for the moment, but to instill the desire for reading and educating into a parent can mean a lifetime of learning and wonderment for both the child and the parent.
Making the library a warm and safe place was her way of achieving that goal, one child, one day at a time.
“That is one of her big things, she wants everyone to feel welcome,” Moe said.
“We want the children to come in here and say, ‘Well, Mommy, I don’t want to leave now, I’m having too much fun,’ ” Curley said. “We don’t see 50 percent of the preschoolers in Mesa County at a public library and I would like to see that. ... Seeing the parent open up a book and just talk about a page. Let the child ask the questions, let the child surmise what is going on. That is what I would encourage parents and care givers to do more often.”
She has become an expert at that over the years.
“She was the one that started toddler time,” said Brenda Jordan, who has worked with Curley for nearly two decades.
The recently remodeled children’s section of the main library has a sunken play area, complete with oversized stuffed animals, pillows, a puppet theatre and, of course, a playhouse.
“This is our most popular area for children,” Curley said.
It is where she used to hold court, captivating the many tiny smiling faces with a story.
“They enter into the story with you,” she said.
During puppet shows she gets to become a character. A favorite of hers is “Piggy Pie.”
“Clifford’s my second,” Curley said. “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”
It’s been a lifetime surrounded by books and happy faces for Curley.
“I think it’s the kids,” Jordan said. “It’s the kids that make the job. Seeing the smiles on their faces when they come in.”
Curley says she will take time to travel with her husband, Bob, who retired a year ago. She will also do lots of yoga, hike the Colorado National Monument, see more friends and read.
She has been a senior partner with Mesa County Partners to a child for a dozen years, served on the state’s Early Childhood Literacy Coalition, served as assistant director and manager of seven library branches, been head of children’s services, has dedicated herself to expanding state and federal literary programs, brought joy to many a child and has been an inspiration to her fellow librarians.
“I have worked for 47 years, straight, with one summer off (counting the jobs she had before joining Mesa County Libraries) ... so I’m ready,” Curley said.