Sharing Her Passion for the Written Word

A lot of things have changed at the Belleville Public Library since 1977. The emergence of the Internet, the introduction of a computerized cataloguing system and its address, to name a few. But one thing has not changed - Janna Colton’s passion for literature and children.

Colton is just what one might imagine a children’s library technician to be. She is bubbly and friendly with a warm smile. Her “signature passion colour” is purple, and she has an encyclopaedic knowledge of children’s literature. Her demeanour makes her seem far younger than her years.

Colton has worked, in some form or another, for the Belleville library for 38 years.

She has always had a love of books and was a voracious reader as a child. “I inhaled them,” she says. Her love affair with the library began when she was just 12 years old. She began helping at the King George Public School library in grade seven as part of the library club. She was hooked. “It was a lot of fun being around the books,” Colton says. She continued to work at the library throughout middle and high school. After high school, rather than studying to become a teacher, Colton made the decision to study library techniques at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont.

During her first year at college she received a grant enabling her to do inventory of the books at the Belleville library during her summer break. After graduating, rather than finding work in a big city, she chose to come home to Belleville. She asked the CEO of the Belleville Public Library if there were any job opportunities. She was hired on the spot as a part time library technician. “And I never left,” she says.

When Colton began at the library she worked in the catalogue and inventory department. All the cataloguing was done by hand. Even though the library now uses a computer system, Colton’s memory of children’s titles and authors is unsurpassed, as is her knack for knowing their location. “If you can’t find it on the shelf, Janna can find it,” says technical services clerk Marie Lyons. “She can find the most obscure stuff - I think she hides them.”

One of the biggest changes at the Belleville library was the introduction of the Internet. “I can remember when they first started talking about the Internet coming into the libraries, that libraries were going to become nonexistent. Everybody was on tenterhooks just waiting to see the libraries go out because of it. That never happened because it’s an enhancement of our services.”

Colton had taken a children’s literature course at college and has had her hand in the children’s youth and reader’s services department of the library ever since. She played an integral part in securing a special children’s room when the library relocated to its present location. She also helped oversee its playful decor. Her concern for the library and the children has not gone unnoticed. “Janna is thoughtful, caring, and considerate and does a great job. Her knowledge and experience is an incredible asset to our organization,” says Trevor Pross, the Library’s CEO.

While Colton’s enthusiasm for books is palpable, working with children is her true passion. She reads stories to children every week at the library. Her eyes light up when she discusses her long-time work with them. “I love the kids. There’s nothing like working with them. I love reading to them,” she says.

When asked if she regrets not becoming a teacher, her reply is simple. “I don’t regret not becoming a teacher because I’m always teaching here. You’re always teaching the kids about books and introducing them to different things,” she says.

The children are just as enthusiastic about Colton and her influence on them is no different than that of a teacher. Colton tells the story of a well-dressed gentleman who came into the library 10 years ago. When he saw Colton, he thanked her. He went on to explain that he met Colton when his class came to the library for a book talk. He was not an avid reader but Colton convinced him to try. He went on to say that he continued to read and to study hard and that Colton played a part in his eventually becoming a lawyer.

“That’s a real tribute to the work that we do. We are teaching, just not in a classroom,” Colton says.

Working with children touches every aspect of Colton’s life. When she is not working at the library or working with Heritage Belleville, Colton writes and performs puppet shows. Her shows utilize historical characters and architecture along with community folklore to teach children about history and life lessons. She even has a Pierre Elliott Trudeau puppet. She travels with her puppets to different schools and festivals in the surrounding communities. She is a member of the Ontario Puppetry Association.

Colton says she has three passions in her life: her 20-year-old daughter, teaching children about books and historical landmarks in Belleville.

Colton says she will retire after 40 years at the library. She will continue raising her daughter. She will stay on with her work with Belleville Heritage Society, and she will continue to perform her puppet shows.

With a little hint of sadness in her voice, Colton says that she will miss the children’s section of the Belleville Public Library. Then one of her colleagues walks by and asks Colton about a book. Her sadness is immediately replaced by an infectious smile as she talks about one of the things she loves best.

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