Published: 2:26 pm, Sun. Jan. 6th, 2019Updated: 2:25 pm
“I think you were destined to be in a library,” Artesia Public Library supervisor Erin Loveland tells Peggy Jo Swafford.
It’s a Friday morning at the APL, and the two are discussing Swafford’s 50 years of service to the local book depository. Loveland recalls looking through a 1960s-era Artesia High School yearbook and seeing a photo of Swafford – in the library.
She likely didn’t know it then, but she began her long career as a teenager in 1966, working as a page at the “old library,” which was then barely a decade old at its former home on Richardson Avenue.
“You shelved books and you helped people find things, you helped out in the summer reading program,” Swafford recalls. “That’s what you did during the school year, too. You worked two hours a day after school and all day on Saturdays.”
Following her graduation, she took a six-month break from the library, but on Jan. 8, 1969, she returned. And has been there ever since.
“Sometimes, it seems longer,” she laughs.
While she loved to read, nothing particularly pulled Swafford to the library, but once there, she knew she’d found her niche.
“I want to say my grandmother had something to do with it,” she says. “She knew the children’s librarian at the time, and she just basically said, ‘You go and report on this day.’”
Swafford says the director of the APL at the time had a habit of moving staff members around, so she quickly learned the ins and outs of nearly every position.
“She would put you in one position for a couple of years, then she would switch you to something else,” she says. “So I worked basically one time as her secretary, sending out book orders and replying to correspondence, and then I worked at the front desk for two years. I also worked as the children’s librarian for a few years. So you got to learn the whole thing.”
When the Artesia Public Library made its move to its current location at 205 W. Quay Ave. in 2014, Swafford went with it, taking on the official title of technical services assistant.
“I basically send out requests, do research questions, work on the direct magazine subscriptions,” she says.
“She’s also our local history expert,” says Loveland. “She gets all the genealogy questions. If someone wants an obituary from 1962, they come to Peggy, and she goes into the microfilm and finds it for them.”
Her title, however, is just a formality. As far as Loveland and the rest of the staff at the library are concerned, she’s a librarian.
“After 50 years in a library, you’re a librarian,” Loveland says.
Swafford can’t imagine her life now without the library and the people she’s met within its walls.
“It’s like a whole ‘nother family,” she says. “And just like any family, we’ve had weddings, we’ve had deaths, we’ve had babies.”
While Swafford admits to not being the most “techy” of individuals – “I have a flip phone,” she says – she is, in a way, a library unto herself.
“I don’t know what we would do without Peggy if she left,” Loveland says. “She’s the go-to for everything.”
“That’s why I don’t get anything done,” Swafford laughs.
“Whenever anyone has a question, we say, ‘Ask Peggy. She’ll know,’” says Loveland. “Peggy is just full of knowledge.”
As it happens, Swafford is also the library staff’s designated party planner, in charge of arranging events for birthdays, anniversaries, and the like. Arranging her upcoming 50th anniversary celebration, therefore, required a surreptitious approach.
“She’s very humble,” Loveland says. “So we kind of had to do this as a surprise, because we knew if we came to Peggy and said we wanted to do a celebration, she’d say, ‘No, that’s OK.’”
Swafford says she’s “overwhelmed” at the prospect of being honored Tuesday, Jan. 8, in a special event at the library. The library will close early for regular business that day at 5 p.m., and Swafford’s anniversary fete will begin. The public is invited to stop by, say hello, and enjoy refreshments.
Many Artesians likely have fond memories of the local librarian, who says she’s had many people tell her they remember her from their childhood summer reading programs as they bring their own children and grandchildren to the library. They and others are encouraged to attend Tuesday’s celebration and share those memories with her.
“We’re happy to celebrate Peggy for her commitment to the community and the library,” Loveland says. “She’s helped a lot of people over the years, and I think she’s a staple of the library.”
“I used to tell them in the old library, ‘They’re going to have to blow up the building to get rid of me’ – and then they did,” Swafford laughs. “But I won’t stay till they blow this one up.”