A perfect mix: books, children, and Ms. Bowers
She describes it as a "dream come true." Jessica Bowers, the new children's librarian at the Oak Bluffs Public Library, says she's always dreamed of working in a New England island community as a children's librarian. A Massachusetts native and former librarian in Westerly, R.I., she brings with her a life-long passion for children, education, mental health, and reading.
"I've lived in many places across the U.S. and spent two years in Holland," Ms. Bowers says, sounding enthusiastic, "but when I came to Oak Bluffs to interview and saw the library, I felt it was meant to be."
She was already familiar with the sense of camaraderie and the slower pace of a small community having worked for eight years as a therapist in private practice in Chatham on Cape Cod.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
"It's hard to put my finger on it," Ms. Bowers says, struggling to describe her affinity for Island living. "I think it's the artistic sensibility and the interesting people who live here. They're all accomplished in their own ways." She adds, "Spending time on the Cape was a good introduction to Martha's Vineyard."
Although she has lived on Martha's Vineyard for less than a month, Ms. Bowers says she already feels connected to the environment. "I sense that the Vineyard values literacy, books and reading, and when I saw the library itself, I realized that if I were going to design my own space this would be what I would wish for."
As well as being impressed with the organization of the children's room and the library's contemporary features, Ms. Bowers praises the library director Danguole Budris and the library's staff. "I feel as though I'll have the freedom to develop good programs here without the constraint of a lot of committees," she says. "I think I was selected for the position because they like my scholarly background and my long history of working with kids."
Ms. Bowers's commitment to children is demonstrated by her ambitious academic career. She earned an undergraduate degree in child development at Chatham College, a graduate degree in child development at Stanford and a master's in clinical social work from Columbia. She sold her home to finance the master's degree she earned three years ago from Florida State University in information studies with a specialty in youth services.
Ms. Bowers credits her own love of books to her family. The eldest of five children and the daughter of educators, she says her parents were avid readers and great role models. She often cared for her younger siblings and used books as a means of bonding.
Books have always played a significant role in her work as well. During her more than 20 years in private practice as a therapist to children and adolescents, Ms. Bowers frequently relied on "bibliotherapy," the use of children's books to address emotional or behavioral issues.
With her appreciation for children's literature always increasing, Ms. Bowers says, "I see significant changes in children's publishing. The Harry Potter books ignited the field. There are lots of spin-offs and fantasy books. There's also a new emphasis on books for boys. In general, books for children and young adults are becoming much more literary and more sophisticated in their design."
Ms. Bowers says she often fantasizes about writing her own books for children or young adults and is hopeful that the new position and the Vineyard environment will inspire her to pursue her goal. Years ago she drafted a children's story designed to help kids learn to cope with the illness or death of a parent.
Ms. Bowers points out that today's young adult fiction has shifted from "the problem novel" in the 1970s to books that rely on all literary elements and focus on more complex issues such as identity, social problems, or sexuality. "There's no more sugar-coating," she says.
Personal favorites include "Miss Rumphius," "My Dinosaur," "Imogene's Antlers," and "Jacob Have I Loved."
Ms. Budris says Ms. Bowers was the committee's first and unanimous choice. "We're looking forward to discovering how our goals will mesh with her strengths," she says. "We're excited about having her and she's excited to be here. We're expecting great things from her."
Asked about her favorite aspect of the job, Ms. Bowers replies with unmasked enthusiasm. "I love to pick out new books for the library and I'm thrilled when they come in." She pauses, and then adds: "And there's nothing more wonderful to me than interacting with kids."
When she's not at the library, Ms. Bowers is apt to be exploring the arts scene on the Vineyard, at the movies or theater. She is looking forward to enjoying many years in her new Oak Bluffs home.
Karla Araujo is a freelance writer who divides her time between the Vineyard and Washington, D.C.