The newly installed circulation desk in the youth department at the Waupaca Area Public Library is a memorial to Mary Calvo’s passion for promoting literacy in children and young people.
It was conceived by Sue Abrahamson, the children’s librarian, and was designed and built by local craftsman Steve Morgan. It was a gift from Calvo’s family, the Friends of the Library and the Library Foundation.
Mary Calvo’s bond with the Waupaca community began in 1969 when she was 10 years old, spending summers in the lake cottage built by her grandfather. Already an avid reader, she was a regular library user in the days of Mrs. Brooks in the old Carnegie Library building.
After her 1980 graduation from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn., Calvo saved for and then made a six-month solo journey around the world including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, India and Nepal.
She returned to Waupaca from London to live in the family cottage, “get her bearings” and find a new direction for her life.
Still a devoted library user, she was approached by then director Jerry Brown in 1982 to organize and catalog a collection donated to the Library by Jane and John Christianson following the death of their daughter. Prepared for circulation, that private library became the core of the Waupaca library’s new women’s study section.
It was also the beginning of Calvo’s career and lifetime devotion to libraries, to readers and to literacy. When the Waupaca library abruptly lost a staff member in 1984, Calvo was again approached by Brown.
According to a letter from him, over the next three years, Calvo promoted library activities through press releases, public service announcements and interviews with the local media and also regularly wrote articles for the Outagamie/Waupaca Library system newsletter.
She initiated a building program statement, analyzing the current facility and projecting future space needs based on her research of population data. She made presentations to both the Library Board and the City Council, which were the initial steps in the eventual construction and move to the new facility. She also scripted and photographed a slide presentation used in fund-raising.
She re-established the preschool story hour program, recruiting volunteer readers and expanding to accommodate more than 80 children. Her ideas for children’s programs were creative and innovative, introducing appearances by the DNR naturalist and performances by area artists. She organized summer reading programs and even donned a rabbit costume for library special events.
Her familiarity with computers facilitated the purchase of an Apple IIe, and then she worked to expand the staff knowledge of computer applications to libraries. She worked as a reference librarian and helped patrons young and old to find appropriate reading materials.
Calvo returned to Saint Paul in 1987 but never disengaged from the Waupaca community that she loved. She continued to help library staff with computer applications and worked with her Community Theater friends on their award-winning entries in the Fourth of July parades.
In Saint Paul, her library career grew, first as children’s librarian with the Forest Lake Library in Washington County (Minn.), then with the Saint Paul Public Library system. She earned her MS in library and information science from Dominican University. Her commitment to public library service and a special interest in staff training and patron education led to her selection by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their “Train the Trainer” program in Seattle in 2001.
She received the Perrie Jones Distinguished Service Award in 2002, described by her colleagues as (in part): “An asset. An organizer. Inspiring, Innovative. A treasure. A visionary. A stalwart public servant. A brilliant mind. A believer in the possibilities of libraries and their value to individuals and the community.”
In her first ten years at SPPL, she worked in every branch in the system. She worked as reference specialist in Central Adult Public Services. Assigned to Training and Organizational staff, she organized an annual Staff Development Day, developed training for existing staff and established training as a benefit, not a punishment.
She co-supervised the most active branch in the system, served as liaison with area schools for programming, specialized in teen and juvenile materials for the collection development, shared her technology expertise troubleshooting for staff and customers and participated in a leadership development program, partnered with community business and civic leaders.
As a purchaser for the Saint Paul Public Library System, she was selected in the fall of 2009 to attend LIBER, the Madrid International Book Fair, at the invitation and as the guest of the Spanish Consulate.
In March of 2010, Mary Calvo was struck down by a massive stroke. Close to an excellent new stroke center, the rapid and expert treatment led to optimism for a full recovery. Although her wit, brilliance, determination and sweet nature persisted, she died on June 18.