SOUTH DEERFIELD – When the world slowed down in 2020 after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Julie Cavacco made sure children’s reading skills weren’t.
Tilton Library’s longtime children’s librarian reached out to families at the start of the pandemic and volunteered her time to bring socially distanced storytime to children stuck at home. As well as mobile story time, Cavacco was also collecting bundles of books to send to children around Deerfield to ensure their reading skills continued to develop while learning remotely.
“Watching kids go from beginning readers to small-chapter books,” Cavacco said, “is really rewarding.”
Now, Cavacc will be slowing down — but not too much — as she retires after 21 years of guiding children from picture books to novels. Cavacc’s last day as Tilton Library’s children’s librarian is January 29, and the library is hosting an open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day for people to drop by and chat with her.
Although she is retiring on January 29, Cavaco will be back at the library the following Monday as she transitions into a substitute and helper role.
“As someone once said,” Cavacco joked, “Julie is retiring, but not leaving the library.”
In a career path that began with a degree in theater from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Cavaccco became interested in the library while working as a substitute teacher in area schools. She said she noticed that kids who got into reading “often had more success in class.” Even after 21 years, she still thought she would “spend more time” at the library.
Reflecting on his time, Cavacco said the best part was seeing “lifetime” relationships blossom between children in the nursery, even before those youngsters shared classrooms at school. She gestured to a framed phrase near the entrance to the children’s room, which she says embodies her ethos as a librarian. The phrase says, “Enter as a stranger, depart as a friend.”
“The biggest impact on kids is showing in word and deed that their reading choices matter,” she said. “Their presence here matters and they are valued.
Cavacco said she’s seen quite a few changes over the past two decades as she constantly refreshes the collection. She first pointed out that the books are “a lot more fun” these days, with more elaborate illustrations to go along with the written descriptions. Thematically, Cavacco said he has seen the publishing community progress in highlighting the diversity of characters and stories to represent the growing diversity of the United States.
“Editors are good at diversity, and it’s woven into the fabric of storytelling at every level,” Cavacco said. “We want to show the diversity that our community may not have as a way to enrich the kids.”
There is a caveat to this mission to diversify the library’s collection, however: “It still has to be a good book,” Cavacco noted.
In her new free time, Cavacco said she would focus on the children’s books she’s written and be ready for publication.
“They won’t help anyone sitting in my house,” she said.
Beyond that, Cavacc plans to do some reading, connect with old friends, and maybe clean up her house a bit, while volunteering at the Tilton Library or other small libraries that might to need help.
“I could clean out a few closets,” she joked, “or five.”
Tilton Library Director Candace Bradbury-Carlin described Cavacco as a “community beacon” who went above and beyond what her job required.
“She portrays librarianship with kindness, community and awareness,” Bradbury-Carlin said. “She gave it her all, it’s more than a job for her.”
Bradbury-Carlin said Holly Johnson, who works with the library’s technical and circulation services, will take charge of the children’s room.
“It’s like a really good passing of the torch,” she said.
For now though, Bradbury-Carlin thanks Cacacco for his years of service to the library and the many more to come,
“It’s not a goodbye, it’s a ‘We’ll see you again,'” Bradbury-Carlin said. “I think for a lot of people, when they think of the Tilton Library, they think of her.”
Chris Larabee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4081.