Donna Spugnardi is retiring after 32 years as the school librarian overseeing all of the elementary school libraries in Lewiston. She is shown here at McMahon Elementary School. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

LEWISTON — When Donna Spugnardi started overseeing all of Lewiston’s elementary school libraries 32 years ago, two of the seven libraries were in closets, every book needed multiple typed catalog cards and the district did not yet have a silly, spunky Cat in the Hat.

She is leaving the job and the whiskers in two weeks.

“I could have retired five years ago, but I still love my job so much, and I love the people,” Spugnardi said. “It’s just so exciting to see a kid finally become a reader and say, ‘Do you have anything else like this?'”

Decades ago, she originally wanted to be a teacher and went to college at night to finish her degree.

But in the 1980s, “you couldn’t get a teaching job,” she said. “Every job was filled and there would be hundreds and hundreds of applicants for every single job.”

Spugnardi was hired as a library assistant at the former Central School on Academy Street in Auburn for sixth, seventh and eighth grades. It inspired her to go back to school for library science.

In 1987, she became Lewiston’s first elementary school librarian.

“When I started, we had libraries, if you want to call them that, in closets, in small classrooms or small spaces where kids would go in sometimes two or three at a time and select their book then come back out and sit in the hall,” she said.

Collections, and space, have grown and tastes have changed over the years. So have some cultural frames of reference.

“It’s funny, (the kids) know Michael Jackson — everyone knows Michael Jackson — but we have books written by Madonna, they don’t know who Madonna is,” Spugnardi said. “I read a biography about The Beatles, and it was mostly about John Lennon. Kids were asking: ‘Is he real? Was he your friend?'”

The work has kept her moving constantly between the schools and organizing the lessons classrooms come in for weekly.

Donna Spugnardi is retiring after 32 years as the school librarian overseeing all of the elementary school libraries in Lewiston. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

“It’s a very demanding job,” she said. “A lot of doing background work, so that when kids come into the library, or teachers come into the library, everything’s working for them, everything’s ready for them, we know what we’re doing.

“My staff has always been my backbone. I have always worked with absolutely the best people.”

She has ordered thousands of new books a year, keeping up with trends, listening to recommendations from students and thinking about different interests and diversity “so kids see their faces in the stories they’re reading.”

Over the past year, she has also weeded through book collections at both Martel and Longley schools, preparing for both libraries to come together at the new Connors Elementary School.

A local bingo group and classmates of Spugnardi’s from the Lewiston High School Class of 1971 have donated $2,500 toward new books for the new library.

She said she has felt more relaxed about leaving since Mary Ann Lopes was hired as the new elementary schools librarian. She feels like things are in good hands and she can focus on retirement, traveling more and spending more time with eight grandchildren.

She dressed as the Cat in the Hat for about 20 of her 32 years, donning white makeup and a full costume for Read Across America each March.

“That’s kind of become my legacy,” Spugnardi said. “It started out with just one day being the Cat in the Hat and going to all the schools to doing half a day in each school. I make a fool of myself, dance around — you have to be silly in this job. Even with sixth-graders, they appreciate it.

“I make up all these crazy stories about the Cat, who lives in Catsville. And I give them directions to my house that are so convoluted, and they remember from year to year. You can’t mess up.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: