Library archivist getting ready to shelve career
She's that 5-foot-tall woman seen for years, but hard to hear, unless you're within whispering distance at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock.
Johanna Harden, 71, speaks librarian, that precise quiet tongue of rich words, in sentences usually ended with an action — quick movements to the very shelf to the very book needed.
Except that Harden often isn't heading for a book that will change someone's life. It might be to a 1930s-era map or an 1870s-era canvas of pressed flowers, some things that can only be touched by her and never checked out by you.
Don't even try.
“There isn't enough chocolate or ice cream,” she said, with a smiling mouth but eagle eyes.
But Harden, who is retiring this month after 26 years of service, is no librarian — as many library patrons may have thought she was through the years. She started out a dreamer, wanted to be a geologist or archaeologist, went to college to study clothing and textiles, ended up a seamstress making dresses in Denver out of fine Thai silk and other materials. One dress she made in particular was a joy, for a woman who she remembers looked almost beyond lovely when greeting her husband in it at Denver's old Stapleton Airport as he arrived from military duty in Vietnam.
And then when she moved to Douglas County in the 1980s with her family, Harden was still sewing and helping her husband with his business as a manufacturing representative — as well as living an outside life as a competitive horsewoman competing in trail events, riding up to 25 miles in a day.
But that's when library career started, too. But never as librarian: She was a volunteer, first, as a way to get to know her new community, at the little storefront that served as a Parker library.
“I did story time, shelved books, did displays, helped people find things …,” she said.
But she noticed books needed mending and she was a mender — but of clothes, not old books.
“I taught myself to do it,” she said, about dealing with the chain stitching, cheese cloth, liner paper, end sheets and other parts of old roughly handled books.
Through the years, taking care of old books would lead to learning to care for old things, historic things, and becoming eventually a trained archivist who will leave behind a large legacy, literally.
With her efforts, and the essential help of others, she was on the ground floor of creating the Douglas County History Resource Center that started with eight donated boxes of items, Harden said.
And it has grown to include, at Castle Rock's library, a temperature-controlled 500-square-foot vault with its own fire-suppression system containing thousands of pictures, books, maps that everyone uses — from land planners, to historians and authors, students and people in search of information about great-great-grandma.
“Now, as Johanna's retirement approaches, the Douglas County History and Research Center is roughly the size of a small branch (and could be the size of a bigger one),” said Jamie LaRue, director of Douglas County Libraries.
“Because of her always earnest stewardship of our past treasures, and the continued professionalism of the rest of the DCHRC staff, the library has earned a lot of respect for our stewardship of the Douglas County story …. For many years, she has been the face of our local history efforts, and I am very grateful to her for that.”