Fairytale line of work

Published 10:44 am Friday, March 20, 2009

Maureen Steenblock’s world is filled with books.

She’s surrounded by titles such as “Before You Were Born,” by Nancy White Carlstrom; “Biscuit Loves Father’s Day” by Alyssa Satin Capucilli; “Armadillo Rodeo” by Jan Brett; “Onion Breath” by Steph and Dan Allosso, and “Piggins” by Jane Yolen.

She’s the friendly face parents and children ask questions to, the behind-the-scenes endless worker who picks out which children’s books to buy and the creative mind behind programs that keep local youngsters busy pretty much all year long.

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For 29 years, Steenblock has been the children’s librarian at the Austin Public Library.

On April 10, she’ll retire.

“It’s fun working with children of all ages and with all of the wonderful staff too,” Steenblock said, whose desk is surrounded by a framed illustration of Cinderella and a large Curious George “thank you” card given to her by local elementary school students. “It’s fun seeing people busy and doing all the variety of things at the library.”

Steenblock became children’s librarian in 1980 after moving to Austin a decade earlier.

For nearly 30 years, she has taken it all in stride, organizing years of summer reading programs and keeping up with the changing of technology, from video cassettes to computers to DVD selections.

“There just seems like there’s a gradual switch,” she said. “It does take a lot of time, though, to build up from scratch a collection.”

Steenblock said she makes her ordering selections by reading book reviews, taking suggestions from the public or if it’s simply a selection she’s seen somewhere else and would like to order it.

Books have always been an important part of Steenblock’s life.

Her parents were both readers, and her grandmother would read to her growing up.

Her childhood, Steenblock said, was filled with the stories of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Little Golden Books and Hans Christian Andersen.

To this day, she prefers children’s books over adult titles and adores stories such as “Caps for Sale” and “Owl Moon.”

“There are a lot of children’s writers who do a phenomenal job,” Steenblock said. “They spend a lot of time developing their characters.”

Steenblock will be missed.

Staff members at the library describe her as a mentor to younger readers and someone who has a genuine love for the library.

“She just goes over and beyond to assist anyone who needs help,” said Anita Bruggeman, library assistant.

Alice Hanson, library assistant No. 2, agreed.

“Her collection development is outstanding. She’s chosen books that are colorful and relevant. She’s constantly weeding to make sure the collection is as current as possible.”

In honor of Steenblock’s 29 years of service, an open house will be held at the library from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 8. The public is invited.