‘A home away from home’

Children’s librarians across the Island talk about the joy and satisfaction they gain through their work.


Even without kids, I’m aware of the fabulous children’s librarians in our local libraries. All you need to do is read the myriad of programs they offer — and hear the squeals coming from the children’s rooms in the libraries as you walk by. Learning that Mikaela Lawson was leaving the West Tisbury library, I thought it was the perfect time to speak to the people who created these special spaces and experiences for the Island’s children.

While they share responsibilities like collection development, advising readers, and running toddler and children’s programs like crafts and story time, each brings something special to the position, and each came to the position differently. As Lawson says, “Each children’s room has its own vibe.”

Mikaela Lawson, West Tisbury library

She began at the West Tisbury library in 2020, having never planned to enter the profession. After college, she happened to work in the Oak Bluffs library’s children’s room, and when her graduate program was canceled, she recalls, “I started questioning if I wanted to study psychology as I had planned.“ Lawson reflects on having taken the position at the West Tisbury library, “It was probably the greatest job I’ll ever have.”

For Lawson, the best part of the job is the kids: “They keep me on my toes. Every day there’s something funny that comes out of their mouths. They are the light around here. Without that, there wouldn’t be that energy and fun that makes people want to come back.” She continues, “I always thought of the children’s room as a reflection of the community. And when you have a good community, it’s really easy to have a good children’s room.”


Michelle Lynch, Oak Bluffs library 

Michelle Lynch began at the Oak Bluffs library about a year and a half ago. Originally, her career was in school counseling, including as the guidance counselor at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Lynch, however, realized that the field was not the best fit for her. “I remembered being in the Oak Bluffs library when my kids were young, and thinking, ‘If I could do it all over again, this is the career I would have gone for.’ I went back to school, and then the position opened at Oak Bluffs.”

Lynch is just starting up a bilingual story time in which she and a co-facilitator will be reading and singing songs in Portuguese. She is partnering with Community Services for an arts and crafts playtime. While Lynch also does programs in the classroom, she particularly favors the summertime. “We are in Oak Bluffs, which is very racially diverse. That is great for me, since I come from a family with a lot of diversity, so I feel at home. And in my career, I’ve always worked with diverse populations,” says Lynch.


Elyce Retmier, Edgartown library

Elyce Retmier at the Edgartown library started 13 years ago, holding different jobs there until the prior children’s librarian retired. “I always knew I wanted to gravitate toward that position,” she says.

Retmier spoke about their built-in audience with the school next door. “Right at 2:40 pm, we hear the bell ring, and 30 to 50 kids come over. We do homework help, cooking classes, and they play on the computers and outside,” she says. The numbers ramp up, though, in the summer. “Between June 20 and August 20, I saw 400 kids sign up for summer reading, with a completion rate of about 80 percent, which was amazing.” Retmier changed the prize system from little plastic toys to experiences and coupons offered by local businesses, such as Dairy Queen, Edgartown Meat and Fish, and Edgartown Pizza. “They are earning the experiences or bringing their family for a treat,” Retmier says, pleased.

“The best part of the job is to see the kids start to come over when they’re eight years old and then graduating eighth grade, where we are all hugging and crying. Then, hiring some of them to work for me when they are in high school. Just seeing that full circle. I’m creating this space for the next generation of kids to grow up in.”


Emily LaPierre, Vineyard Haven library

Emily LaPierre has been in the position at Vineyard Haven library for five years. Originally in school for criminal justice and psychology, she ended up teaching everything from preschool through sixth grade. She adores being a children’s librarian: “It lets me do all the things I love. I get to draw, read, sing, write, and play alongside the kids while they are learning new things, all while helping the youth community grow and figure out who they are and what they like. Every day is something new and fun. It’s one of the most passionate jobs I’ve had in my lifetime.”


Drew Dubno, Chilmark library

Drew Dubno is a newbie, having just started at the Chilmark library in May. He was an early childhood teacher in New York and here, “But I was also thinking about what else I was trying to do with my skills as an educator.” When the position opened up, he says, “Everything was pointing to me checking this out as a new career path. I recognized there was a lot of overlap with what I do, but also this is a whole new institution and type of work I was ready to learn about.”

Dubno enjoys building programs such as story time around a single theme. “Whether it’s chickens or going back to school, all of the things within the story time will relate to the theme, so that there’s something holding it together.” Using a singular focus with many variations is something he did in many of his classrooms. “In most of the schools I taught, they used the emergent curriculum approach. You listen to the students and hear what their natural interests are, and then develop a curriculum off that instead of having predecided themes and activities.”

Asked about what he likes best about the job, Dubno tells me about a moment that had happened that day, when a child came in to get her library card. “She went to the children’s books, got two, and went to the front desk to check them out. Her mom and I watched her just walk right over, and I looked at Mom and said, ‘What’s better than that?’”

While each of our children’s librarians is unique, they all echoed what Lawson said was ultimately most important: “You want it to feel like a home away from home for the kids who come.”