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Honoring Alan Howe

When Senior Library Assistant Alan Howe started working for the Oakland Public Library in 1990, he had no idea that his part-time job would blossom into a rewarding 28-year-long career.

Given his deep love for books and his dedication to meeting the needs of others, it was a natural fit for Howe, who had studied at seminary and served for eight years as a pastor.

His history with the Rockridge Branch dates back to the days when there was no arts and crafts influenced building on College Avenue, but only a lowly trailer.

“There are times I miss that trailer,” Howe said during a recent conversation reflecting on his retirement. “It was small and manageable and we had air conditioning!”

Such remarks can be expected from Howe, who at times puts forward a cranky persona. He likes to compare himself to Eeyore from the Winnie-the-Pooh books.

“His demeanor is self-effacing,” said Children’s Librarian Erica Siskind, who has worked with Howe for 22 years. “Despite his surface attitude of a curmudgeon, he is actually a soft hearted person who is sweet with people. He is respectful and empathetic to his colleagues and the public.”

Howe’s favorite role at the library over the years has been at the reference desk doing what he calls “detective work” for patrons.

“People come with all kinds of questions. Some of them very simple, some of them a little more difficult to find,” Howe said. “Giving somebody the information they need and knowing that they are pleased with it – that is probably one of the best things about the job.”

“I regret sometimes when I haven’t been able to provide the service some people need. Then as soon as they leave the light bulb goes on. Sometimes I’ll chase after them, sometimes they’re already gone,” said Howe.

“He is one of those library staff that is dogged,” Siskind said. “If he gets a question from a patron he is going to stick with it until he gets an answer.”

While he is diligent and detail oriented, Howe is certainly not serious all the time. Branch staff members have enjoyed his clever puns and humorous T-shirts, which show off his lighter side. One shirt reads: Google can give you 100,000 answers, a librarian can give you the right one.

Alan on opening day of the current building in 1996

“I would say 'help you to find the right one,’” Howe said.

Despite his diminutive appearance, Howe also has a reputation for being fearless. He once chased an alleged laptop thief into the street, which led to recovery of the patron’s computer. Another time, he deescalated an assault while biking to work. Howe also once rescued two squirrels that became trapped in a branch drainpipe.

“My most vivid image of Alan is how willing and ready he is to jump up, to respond to things,” Siskind said. “If a bird comes in here, he will not do anything else until it is safe. He is a committed environmentalist turning off lights and computers so we don’t waste energy and biking to work year round even in the cold or rain.”

In his retirement, Howe plans to spend time birding, getting more involved in social causes, and writing poetry. Despite those robust plans, stepping away from his position at branch on September 5 won’t be easy.

“I’m going to miss just seeing the books that come in,” he said. “I’ll probably haunt the place so that I can keep up and find out what’s new with the staff and patrons. They are a real part of my community.”

“This branch has been a part of my life for 26 years now, and so not ‘living’ here, not being able to go into the staff area –I’ll miss that. I’ve known some of the patrons here since they were bumps and now they are graduated and in careers. It’s been so neat watching them grow,” said Howe.

“And now I’m getting a little emotional.”

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