Meet Your Librarian Series: Children’s Librarian, Amy Holzworth
Love in the library comes in many forms; from the love of the written word to the love of friends at storytime to crossing paths with the love of your life. Our very own Children’s Librarian Amy Holzworth first met her husband 30 years ago while working in circulation at Old Town Library.
Though she adores the title of Children’s Librarian, her favorite title is Mom. Her two sons, Ben and Nathan, now in their twenties, grew up enjoying the same spaces of Poudre Libraries that have been a part of Amy’s life since she first arrived in Fort Collins in the late 1970s at age 12.
Her love for learning stretches back even further. “The need for creativity, research, information, and curiosity has always been something that’s been woven into my every day,” she said when we sat down to review more than a decade of public service at Poudre Libraries.
From the Foothills to Farm Fields to the Fjords
After graduating from Poudre High School, Amy moved on to Luther College in Iowa where she majored in English, studied in Norway during her senior year of college, and fostered a great passion for the power of words by writing for her school newspaper.
“I love words…the good and the bad they can do. How words are wielded changes the world. Who has access to words and who doesn’t also changes the world. Who can read and who can’t is a huge deal.”
Amy’s affinity for words began in the study of etymology (or the research of words), and librarianship seemed like a wonderful fit because it paired words with her love of working with people. Over her career, she has worked in nearly every department in the Library including circulation, reference, management, and programming.
For Every Learner
Having discovered her passions, Amy went on to receive her master’s degree in Library Science from Denver University while working at Poudre Libraries, commuting to Denver for three years for school, and raising her two young children. Her master’s degree provided even more foundation for her librarianship and the importance of early literacy.
“I feel so strongly that everybody has the right to the story. There are so many marks against who is a good reader and who isn’t, so I do my very best to break those down.”
In schools and other learning environments, there are strict boundaries that define a great reader, whereas, in libraries, reading is celebrated in all forms independent of standardized testing. Having struggled with reading and building her own reading confidence over time, the selling point of books for Amy personally and professionally is the story.
“What makes me a good librarian is that I advocate for every reader. That might differentiate me from other librarians – I’ve learned to celebrate and give that message of confidence.”
Books Build Boys
As the mother of two boys, Amy also has a particular passion for what she calls “building boy readers.”
Studies since the early 1940s have shown that young girls consistently outrank boys in reading comprehension internationally; more recently, a study that matrixed reading tests of the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that girls outscored boys at every grade level and age examined. According to the Pew Research Center, more young women ages 25-34, (10 percent more) also graduate college when compared to young men.
With those statistics always at the back of Amy’s mind, she takes great pride in empowering young boys and parents, “I can reeducate parents on boy readers…boys come to reading at a different rate…Helping boys see themselves as readers is a huge part of that.”
Amy also finds a correlation to serving other segments of the community with this research background, “I have this correlation to what I’ve experienced with [Fort Collins’] unhoused population being mostly men and I correlate literacy with that and a boy’s experience in the education system…so that passion for early literacy is what pushed me to children’s librarianship.”
Bridging the Gap
Several years ago, Amy and our IT & Facilities Manager Mark Huber, as well as his son, teamed up to create a Books Build Boys book club where 13 pairs of young boys and male figures in their life were invited to discuss and do activities based on a particular book. The club had a single session before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Despite this, one session was enough to make magic happen.
“There was a nine-year-old and a 90-year-old great-grandfather which was precious. The best thing I could do was step back and not talk and let…the older partner tell stories about reading.”
Having served in libraries for over 30 years, Amy summed up librarianship through the pandemic in two words, expansion and recalibration.
“It was a real joy to know that customers still needed us and still wanted the Library in so many parts of their life. We kind of guessed through what we should do and most of the time, it was spot on.”
One of Amy’s innovative and very successful brainstorms through the pandemic was our “Take-and-Make” craft kits. Sometimes created by staff and other times created by those needing to fulfill community service hours in partnership with the Larimer County Alternative Sentencing, we have now distributed over 8,000 of these beloved kits to the community.
Ushering in the Internet
Outside of Poudre Libraries, Amy spent over a decade serving at Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, at one point running a small Old Colorado City branch of that Library system. Through her decades of experience, Amy saw firsthand the transition of libraries with the dawn of the internet.
“In 1996, we were the first library in Colorado Springs to have Wi-Fi from a National Science Foundation grant. I was the test pilot. We had two computers and the router was dying all the time. It was kind of that first, how will the Library district provide Wi-Fi?”
Now a staple resource provided in public libraries, Wi-Fi is just an addition to the centuries of services offered free to American communities. Amy connected libraries back to the original founder of the first American public library.
“When Benjamin Franklin started the first public library, he started it for the miners, the undereducated and the illiterate for a place to have recreation…what that does for a human soul to have a connection through recreation and encouraging reading is the base of public libraries.”
Small Moments with Big Impact
Amy has seen so many wonderful moments throughout her career. One of her favorite storytimes ever happened earlier this year. English is Amy’s first language, though during college she fostered a passion for Norwegian and is also semi-fluent in Spanish and American Sign Language. Amy asked the group of parents and kids at storytime to count to five with her in these four languages.
When she asked the group if there were any other languages in the room they could count in, another five languages were added to the arithmetic challenge including Hindi, Farsi, Korean, Chinese, and German.
“It was a pinnacle day and perhaps one of the best moments ever. When we finished, we all looked at each other for a moment, kind of laughing. That was really beautiful. I’m always going to do as much as I can to help that grow.”
Other wonderful moments Amy recalls include the joy in children’s eyes when she gives them a book, daily interactions with the families of Fort Collins, and authentic moments like a little girl asking her if she lived at the library to which she responded, “yes – but only during the day.”
When she worked at Old Town Library, she also saw a different perspective of public service. One time, a woman she was trying to assist became very agitated with her to the point that Amy had to relay she could not help her until she was able to calm down. The woman burst into tears and explained that she wasn’t meant to be at the Library and accidentally ended up there on a bus and was concerned about her caretaker being able to find her.
“By the end of the conversation, [the woman] said ‘thank you for saving my day.’ It expands my views and people’s need for connection and the need for relief and joy through books. I was able to turn it around and that came from lots of years of experience.”
To Many More Years of Glow-In-The-Dark Glue
Amy’s recent readings that sparked personal joy include, I, Cosmo and Leonard, My Life as a Cat both by Carlie Sorosiak. One of her favorites ever is Dear Martin by Nic Stone and she reads many picture books daily.
Summing up her three decades of service in libraries, Amy relayed some of the most wonderful parts of her job, “The power to change somebody’s day and the random authentic interactions I get daily. Also, just the interactions with staff and like-minded people. I can’t believe that I get to help support storytellers with their planning or supplies…I get to buy green paper and glow-in-the-dark glue, who doesn’t love that?”
You can read some of Amy’s writing through her blog pieces including “Picture This” and “Get Smart About Your Money” or drop by Council Tree Library to meet Amy in person at one of her programs or take some of her wonderful reading recommendations.