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Kingsport Library director entering a new chapter in life

Matthew Lane • Jan 1, 2018 at 12:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Helen Whittaker began her career surrounded by books. It only makes sense that she continued to be so until her recent retirement.

Whittaker, who for the past 17 years served as the director of the Kingsport Public Library, retired from her position on Dec. 8. During her tenure in Kingsport, the library:

— Remodeled its children’s area with the help of a $100,000 state grant.

— Started and grew a Paws to Read program with local dogs.

— Organized First Book – Greater Kingsport, which provides free books to at-risk children.

— Improved its technology and digital services and created innovative programs using technology, such as robotics and the maker space.

The Times News caught up with Whittaker soon after her retirement and had a few questions to ask:

Did you always want to be a librarian?

“I actually went back to graduate school after working in public libraries for nine years for a master’s degree in journalism because I wanted to work in public relations. Life happens. I ended up back in public libraries, so I used my public relations skills for the libraries I worked in to increase awareness of our services in the community.”

What’s your favorite novel?

“Hmmm, top book — recent would be “Unbroken.” I don’t normally read military books, but I couldn’t put this one down. The story was incredible. And I will always remember a book I had to read for school, “Atlas Shrugged,” not because of the gazillion page speech by John Galt, but because, as a teenager, I was inspired by the strong female character of Dagney.”

What author or book do you absolutely despise?

“I don’t know that there’s a book or author I despise. Rather, there are some I avoid. I mainly read mysteries. If there’s not a dead body by page 20, I’m done.”

Is it true the book is always better than the movie?

“I would say most of the time, but not always, especially with the Harry Potter books. It was so wonderful to see the books come to life, and the movies were so close to the written content.”

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever caught someone doing inside the library?

“A woman (a regular) used to do chanting and dances inside the library. The staff told me she practiced voodoo and I shouldn’t ever confront her over anything. She did do something I couldn’t let go (for your info, she tossed used toilet paper over the top of the stall in the ladies restroom onto the head of the lady in the stall next to her). I did have to suspend her use of the library for awhile, and that night I dropped a cookie sheet on my foot and broke my toe. My staff said, ‘We told you so. ...”

Anything else?

“We had a man create and print out three fake prescriptions using our computers and printer. This was when we had police working in the library. The policeman noticed this and arrested him.”

One last thing?

“I looked out my window one day and saw three children cavorting in the fountain in the park in their bathing suits. Their father was nearby watching. I went out and told him he might not want his children playing in and accidentally swallowing that water.”

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