The Heart of the Community: Andrea Leeson Retires from Kingston Library

The Heart of the Community: Andrea Leeson Retires from Kingston Library
By Emily Leeson

Around the time that I started at Kingston Elementary School, my mother, Andrea Leeson, took a job at the Kingston Library. We’d been frequent visitors to the library, which back then was situated upstairs in a house on Victoria Avenue. The branch manager, who was looking towards her own retirement at the time, had noted my mother’s keen interest in books and suggested that Andrea apply for the job. She did, and she got it. It was a nice fit for her, and a nice fit for the family: we could walk there after school, hang out under the desk, and on particularly good days nice ladies would occasionally pay about a quarter to have their books carried out to the car. Now, after thirty years, Andrea is retiring, or as she likes to put it: Blasting Off to Phase Two of her life, and if there’s at least one benefit to co-owning a wonderful little newspaper in the beautiful Annapolis Valley, it’s got to be the ability to celebrate your mother’s career. We here at The Grapevine are women at work, working at home, working outside the home, working with families, working long hours, and now working with even more babies on our laps. So, it’s the perfect time for us to celebrate another woman and her life’s work in the Valley! Without more ado: I bring you, my ode to Andrea Leeson and her wonderful, admirable, well-spent career at the Annapolis Valley Regional Library.

The Kingston Library is an unassuming gem. The little library that Andrea manages is tucked in behind the town hall and fire station. Garden boxes outside bloom in the spring and host a community salad garden as the seasons warm up, and the door to the library is more than likely plastered with posters advertising a host of different events planned for the coming weeks. Inside, the bookshelves share the space with computer desks, craft tables, a kids’ kitchen space and train table, and reading nooks. The walls are covered with a rotating display of local artists’ work. The space is cozy, practical, and bright.

When Connie Jodrey, who eventually came to work at the Kingston library for several years before becoming a branch manager in Bridgetown, first visited the library as a patron, she was used to a large city library. She wasn’t sure if this little library was going to be up to her reading habits. That opinion quickly changed. “Within days, Andrea was greeting me by name when I walked in, and within a few weeks she’d not only figured out my reading preferences, she was slipping books she thought I might enjoy into the stacks I ordered every week,” she remembers, “Suddenly, instead of envying my city friends with their access to an immense selection of books seven days a week, I was bragging about my great little library, and not only that, I was feeling sorry for my unfortunate city friends.”

“Andrea taught me how to be a librarian,” says Connie, “She gave me the skills and the courage to apply for, and get, the best job I ever had in my life as librarian and manager of the Bridgetown branch. She’s a good friend, and I’ll deeply miss seeing (and hearing) her behind that circulation desk.”

Like the other branches of the Annapolis Valley Regional Library, the Kingston Library space isn’t just a room with books and computers and space to study, it’s the heart of a wonderful community, the hub of a group anyone can join — where everything you need to know is at your fingertips, almost everything is free, and there’s always someone waiting to help.

For the past three decades in Kingston, that’s been Andrea. While the circulation desk is certainly a busy place, Andrea hasn’t just spent the years checking in and out books. As branch manager, she’s out in the shelves seeking out that old favourite she’s just recommended to a new patron, over at the craft table helping out with a kids’ program, hunched over at the computer showing someone how to log into their email for the first time, perched up on a chair arranging new artwork this way or that, or over at the elementary school speaking at an assembly about the summer reading programs. “She has been a great Annapolis Valley Regional Library cheerleader for all the library has to offer,” says Wendy Trimper, the Community Library Services Coordinator for AVRL.

In an era when it’s relatively easy to turn to Google for an answer, let Netflix make the picks for you, or choose your books from the bestseller list, small town libraries are bridging gaps and offering the best of what the present has to offer, alongside the not-to-be-lost personal interaction so important to community life.

If you’ve ever encountered a slightly slower line at the check-out desk in Kingston, you’ll quickly figure out why: Over the years, Andrea’s desk has become a spot where patrons were sure to find someone eager to hear their funny story, their misadventure, or how they were doing during a rough time.

Emily Hill worked with Andrea at the library for five years, but as she puts it, it really wasn’t like working at all. “We always got our work done, but with more than a chuckle or two as we worked,” she says, “Andrea has become part of the fabric of the community. Patrons come in to use our library services, but also come in to share news with her or just say a quick hello. She always enjoys seeing the return of younger patrons as adults with their own families as well. I watched as she welcomed new library members in like old friends, and was always advocating library services. Andrea made our library branch a comfortable place.”

During it all, Andrea has managed to pass along her love of literature to more than one generation in Kingston. She always knew which picture book was stunning, which early reader title would work, which mystery would suit, which thriller would entice, which biography would be interesting (even if she hadn’t finished the whole thing), or which new movie was suddenly available. She also knew how to be a good co-worker. Lisa Ackerman Rice, now the branch manager in Wolfville, started off working alongside her. “I was so excited when Andrea hired me at the Kingston branch,” remembers Lisa, “I knew she’d be fun and inspiring to work for, and with. And thirty years later Andrea still inspires.”

But, for Andrea this retirement isn’t so much about the ending of her career at the library as it is about her Blasting Off into the next phase of her life. One likely filled with more time with her grandchildren, more reading, more gardening, more adventures with her husband Garry (check out The Dome Chronicles column anytime you’d like to know how those typically go), and likely still a good deal of hanging around the Kingston Library — after all, these days she might finally have more time to read!

Andrea’s Blast Off Party will be held at the Kingston Library, 671 Main Street, on Thursday, April 19 from 4pm to 7:30pm. All are welcome. Drop by to celebrate with Andrea!