By Sharon G. Jonas
In 1985, when Bonnie Markel, a young mother of three, accepted a part-time job in the children’s section at the Merrick Library after trying substitute teaching, she thought it was a nice way to get out of the house. Armed with a Master of Library Science (MLS) degree from Queens College, she was excited to be working at least one night a week, applying her degree. “I loved my job,” says Markel, “I’d come home with a big smile on my face.”
Retiring Merrick Library children’s librarian Bonnie Markel holding her favorite book “Charlotte’s Web“
Now, after nearly 30 years of service at the Merrick Library, as she prepares to retire from her position as head of the Children’s Department at the end of June, her influence over the years has ensured that smiles live on in the faces of young patrons.
Credited with reshaping the nature of the children’s section and implementing innovative ideas, Markel has not only won accolades from fellow professionals, but obvious approval from her target audience. The current children’s room, designed for babies-through-sixth graders, is a spacious, window-lined wonderland loaded with more than a wide range of books. Embracing the “Family Place Library” concept that encourages family participation, she says “It’s not a shhhhshhhh library anymore.”
The room is large enough to accommodate a range of activities. While some still sit and quietly read at one end of the room or use one of the eight iPads affixed to oversized crayon-shaped stations, others giggle, chatter and roam about enjoying a wide variety of toys including puzzles, dollhouses, Legos and a train table. The large saltwater fish tank, one of Markel’s ideas for the room, continually draws children who stare, point and even talk to the colorful inhabitants of that magical world.
“I’m a kid at heart,” says Markel, who still enjoys reading children’s books. In addition to selecting the thousands of books available for loan, and installing 10 computers, she has been instrumental in arranging programs that enrich not just the lives of children, but caregivers too.
Regular library attendees included little Avi Mogilyansky with his uncle Richard Solomon and Grandmother Helane Solomon
A five-week program, Parent/Child 1-2-3, has been offered once or twice yearly since 2008. This offers activities for young children while caregivers can speak to a professional about specific child care issues. In the past, nutritionists, psychologists, speech pathologists and music therapy professionals have attended.
Markel also looks forward to a new Mother Goose program starting after her retirement, which invites caregivers and babies to enjoy 20-minute sessions designed to stimulate learning. On a weekly basis, reading and story time for children ages 2-through-grade 2 are held in a separate room, which Markel requested be added when the building was being designed.
Lead charge into new building
Prior to the current state-of-the-art library that opened in 2005, Markel recalls the previous building where she was the only full time employee. “The building was much smaller and the children’s room was downstairs in the basement. It was dark, not well-lit and we didn’t have any offices. When we moved to this nice big beautiful building…I was able to give the two part-timers full-time positions, and that helped immensely.”
Library Director Ellen Firer says, “When we moved into this building Bonnie led the charge. She’s been an invaluable member of the Merrick Library staff, offering superior customer service, which is important to us. She’s helped bring the children’s room into the 21st century.”
Over the years Markel has not only created change, but was challenged to react to forces out of her control. When a fire in 2004 destroyed the entire children’s collection in the old library, she worked to begin anew. “We set up across the street in the lobby of the old LIRR train station, which wasn’t being used anymore. We were there about a year. We opened at 7 a.m., allowing commuters to borrow everything from books to CDs and DVDs. It was a small collection, but at least it offered people something.”
Two-year-old Luca Curcio prepares to play a computer game. His mother, Gabrielle, remembers Bonnie working at the library when she was a child.
She recalls the transition in the late 1990s from the standard card catalogue to a computerized system. It was a “cold turkey” change, Markel remembers, made quickly and almost overnight. “Now you can get our card catalogue on your phone if you have the internet. That’s what it’s come to.” By going to www.merricklibrary.org and clicking on ‘catalogue,’ you can reserve books or download them to an electronic device.
Markel has also witnessed children changing over the years. “They’re more impatient now and want everything quickly.” She said the books are more “dramatic,” with an emphasis on fantasy, such as wizards, fairies and underworlds.
Taking over Markel’s position is Susan Goodwin, who has been with the Merrick Library’s since 1979. “It’s bittersweet,” says Goodwin. “Bonnie has been a fantastic head of the department. She’s innovative, creative and great with the patrons. She’ll be a tough act to follow.”
Bonnie’s Book Picks
“Go, Dog. Go!” by P.D. Eastman
“Amelia Bedelia” (series) by Peggy Parish
“Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White
“Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker
“The Hundred Dresses: by Eleanor Estes
Older readers 5th/6th graders-
“Wonder” by R. J. Palacio
“The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
“Because of Winn Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo