45 years and counting for Gail Borden Library's longest-serving employee

  • Tina Birkholz holds "Ginger Snaps," a hand puppet she used when she first started doing children's programs 45 years ago at the Gail Borden Library in Elgin. While Ginger Snaps has retired and sits on her desk, Birkholz is the library's longest-serving employee.

      Tina Birkholz holds "Ginger Snaps," a hand puppet she used when she first started doing children's programs 45 years ago at the Gail Borden Library in Elgin. While Ginger Snaps has retired and sits on her desk, Birkholz is the library's longest-serving employee. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Tina Birkholz is the longest-serving librarian at the Gail Borden Library, having started at the old location as a page in 1976. She works in the KidSpace department and is the coordinator of Hispanic Family Services.

      Tina Birkholz is the longest-serving librarian at the Gail Borden Library, having started at the old location as a page in 1976. She works in the KidSpace department and is the coordinator of Hispanic Family Services. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/6/2022 7:08 AM

Contrary to the old stereotype, Tina Birkholz doesn't remember ever putting her finger to her lips and shushing somebody in her 45 years of being a children's librarian at the Gail Borden Library in Elgin.

"We've never been real shushy in the children's area," she said. "Sometimes parents will come in and tell their kids that 'now we have to be quiet,' and I'll say to them, 'Oh, this isn't a quiet library, this is a fun library.'"

 

The longest-serving employee at the library, Birkholz last week helped finalize preparations for the summer reading program, which this year centers around the library's "Wizard of Oz" exhibit. The program, which predates even her time at the library, kicked off Friday with thousands of kids signed up.

"It's gotten so much bigger than when I started, but the essentials are the same," she said. "We just want to encourage kids to read and have fun. That's what we're still doing.

"The mechanics may have changed, but not the reason."

Birkholz has seen what would have been unimaginable changes and advances since when she started as a page at the old location across the street in 1976.

The card catalog is long gone. Filmstrips became 16 mm films, which became VHS tapes, then DVDs. The library now offers streaming services, and print books are offered as e-books. And just about any information you want is available with a keystroke on the internet.

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If anything, Birkholz said, changing technology has made the library more important.

"It is funny that when computers and the internet came, people said libraries are gonna die, we don't need them anymore," Birkholz said.

"But that's not happened," she said. "People still want books and want to read.

Meanwhile, Birkholz said the library is not just a place for knowledge and books.

"I see us as more of a community center," she said. "We're a connection point for people."

Birkholz, a lifelong Elginite, remembers visiting the library as a kid when the location was on Spring Street. At 16, she started working as a page in the Youth Services Department. Though it's now called KidSpace, she'll celebrate her 46th anniversary in the same department in August.

"I've moved up a few levels, but I'm still here," she said. "I love it. I wouldn't still be here if I didn't."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

She's currently the coordinator of Hispanic Family Services.

"There's always something new in this job," she said. "It never gets stale. It may sound like you do the same thing all the time, but you're working with kids, so there are always adventures."

Even after 45 years, Birkholz still enjoys the "adventures" that working with kids affords.

"I just love them, they see the world so differently than we do as adults," she said. "You can just see their little minds working as they learn about their life and other kids and how the world works. It's just amazing. Each one is a little miracle."

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