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Librarian turns page on nearly 30-year career

POSTED: November 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

After nearly 30 years of service in the Hall County Library System Ella Jean Smith will soon be retiring. Smith was fondly known by local children as the "Bookmobile Lady" and is a published author.

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Twelve years after Hall County parked the last one, Ella Jean Smith is still referred to as "Bookmobile Lady."

"That’s my name. I think that’s all (people) ever knew me by, they never really called my name — it was just ‘Bookmobile Lady,’" Smith recalls.

It does not seem to bother Smith that more people know her as "Bookmobile Lady" than Ella Jean. She refers to the moniker as one would the alias of a superhero.

Although she has other credits in the library and in the publishing world, Smith’s 17-year stint driving the mobile library through Gainesville’s Southside, delivering books to day care centers and outside the county, did save the day in its own way.

"A lot of black kids were not able to get to the library, and so the library went to them," Smith said. "And once the library went to them, this became a boost for these kids. They began to love books."

Smith will retire this week from the Hall County Library System after nearly 30 years of working "everywhere but reference and children," doing what she called the best job she ever had with the greatest boss she ever had, director Adrian Mixson.

"As the kids would say, ‘he’s the bomb,’" she said of Mixson.

As the longest-standing employee at the downtown branch, Smith says her co-workers have become her family over time. In their family, Smith is the mother.

"No one could ask for greater family than I have here on my job," she said. "... The younger people, you know, they’re like my kids, and its great to have a great family where you work."

Her co-worker Gail Hogan says Smith always has given encouragement to anyone who needed it.

"She is our voice of wisdom sometimes when we need it. We go to her," Hogan said.

In 30 years, Smith watched Hall County’s library system grow up, garnering a bigger book budget and changing from a manual check-out method to one that computers controlled.

"We offer so much more now to the public than when I started in 1979," Smith said.

But now, the 60-year-old wants some time to herself, and she has plans to paint the inside of her house and work on her garden with her husband Walter Lee Smith.

"It’s about time we spent time with each other," she said. "... I just want to enjoy life for a little bit. ... I want to do me for a while."

Hogan says Smith will leave the library this week an accomplished woman.

"What better legacy can you have than to know that you have ... connected these children with reading? That’s so dear to my heart," Hogan said.

Smith has a list of accomplishments. For starters, she raised two sons and a daughter, and she is a published author.

Smith and Linda Rucker Hutchens wrote and compiled the photographs and information for a Black America Series book titled "Hall County Georgia." The book, published in 2004, details a pictorial history of Hall County’s black population from the 1880s to the late 1970s.

Of all her accomplishments, Smith seems to be most remembered for her 17 years behind the wheel in Hall County’s last Bookmobile.

Thirty years later, Smith talks about getting hired to drive the Bookmobile as if it was a gift from God.

"I had grown up in the library, but never dreamed I would work in a library," Smith said. "... Lo and behold, they hired me."



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