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Rolling Fork librarian for 31 years says goodbye amid hugs, praise as a teacher

Kathleen Hawkins, head librarian at Sharkey-Issaquena Public Library, gets a hug from Jasmine Ceaser, 8, at Hawkins’ retirement party Tuesday. (The Vicksburg Post/ASHLEIGH MORRIS)

[05/30/01] ROLLING FORK Heartfelt hugs were offered in appreciation to Kathleen Hawkins Tuesday when more than 50 friends and colleagues came to say thanks for her 31 years at Sharkey-Issaquena Public Library.

“She’s been a gem,” said Alona Smith, 68, who, with the rest of the community, has seen the small public library in downtown Rolling Fork grow under Hawkins’ tutelage.

With a reputation for knowing the whereabouts of any book in the building and a knack for recommending just the right one, her influence has been widespread. “If you needed anything, she’d find it for you,” said Wadie Williams, 75, of Rolling Fork. “She’s just a good person and a good librarian.”

But beyond her adult patrons, her real love as librarian was reaching children. “To see children grow, to help them get what they need to mature, that’s the biggest satisfaction in life to help the children,” said Hawkins, surrounded by a flock of them at her retirement party.

She has seen generations of school children browse the card catalogs or search the library’s volumes for book reports. “She’s helped me a lot with science projects,” said Christopher Johnson, 15, who quickly recalled “Where the Red Fern Grows” as his favorite book introduced to him by Hawkins. “She’s a fine lady.”

The Sharkey-Issaquena Public Library, part of the South Delta Library Association, is in an area with high unemployment and illiteracy rates, but has thoroughly up-to-date offerings. From new fiction, such as the latest John Grisham or Nicholas Evans novel to the complete series of Harry Potter, Hawkins has ensured her clients’ reading needs were met. Since she began working as assistant librarian in 1970 moving up to head librarian in 1989 the library has more than doubled in size and added computers, movies, books on tape and a respectable reference section that has been a pet project. “We have really increased our reference section, adding numerous volumes and sets to help our students,” she said. She also created a children’s reading room filled with thousands of selections as well as stuffed animals, dolls and dinosaurs all to open new doors and minds to the world of reading.

But it was also her enthusiasm for the job, coupled with her love for books, that allowed her to touch so many. From recommending new fiction to voracious local readers to sending books home with parents, knowing a new acquisition would be the perfect read for a child, Hawkins found her calling. “When I got my first paycheck, I thought, What an added bonus. I get to work with books and make money,'” she said. Now she gets time off to do any catch-up reading she might have missed.

Patricia Burchfield will be the new librarian.