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For the love of reading: Manager witness to evolution of the library

By Greg Gelpi

From moving 60,000 books in less than a week to watching computers replace card catalogs, Mary Jo Gowing, 55, has seen many changes in the library in her time, but her love of books remains unchanged. Gowing, the branch manager of the Riverdale Library, moved to Clayton County from Chicago almost 30 years ago with a teaching degree. After applying to teach at the Clayton County schools central offices, she stepped next door to apply for a job at the library.

"He said fill out this application and we'll call you back, and he did," Gowing said.

She has been part of the library system ever since, helping move 60,000 books from the old Riverdale branch to the current branch and outlasting four or five computer cataloging systems.

"Since I've been working with the library, we've gone from hand-kept records to all of these electronic records," she said. "Things that used to take hours and hours to look up now takes a couple of minutes."

The Clayton County Library System is celebrating National Library Week, a week for librarians to share their passion for reading.

"Everyday in this library you learn something new," she said, adding that helping others learn is just as rewarding.

On average reading 300 books in a year "conservatively," Gowing said she has probably read more than 7,800 books in her time as a librarian.

"You don't get to read as much as you would love to," she said. "Let me put it this way, I love any book, fiction or nonfiction, that the author uses language well."

Gowing's passion for the library and reading could only be matched by that of Lucy Huie, who has been going to the library since she was a child, Huie said, about 75 years.

She still goes to the library every few weeks, researching all sorts of topics.

"I don't read as many novels as the typical book lover," Huie, a former library board chairwoman, said.

When not visiting a library, she works on her collection of books at home, which consists of books in her house, attic, garage and basement.

Huie worked as librarian in college and in the military and continues to be a patron of the library.

She served the military during World War II by passing out books in a military hospital in Augusta.

Special activities for National Library Week will continue Thursday with an evening story time at the Clayton County Library Headquarters. The week will end with a Super Saturday Crafts program at 2 p.m. Saturday for children ages 5 and up.

The Clayton system of five libraries has about 325,000 books, audio tapes, compact discs and other items in its collections. The system will add a new library in the fall with the addition of a Lovejoy library, which is expected to be completed in November.