Fran Homa doesn’t easily forget a face. Entering the room for a recent interview at the Rocky River Public Library, the children’s department manager glanced at a visitor, and immediately recalled that visitor’s daughter’s name and a gift that she gave Homa almost 20 years ago.
In her 30 years with the library, Homa estimates that she must have worked with thousands of children, ranging in age from babies to middle-schoolers, but she remembers many, and considers them all “her children.”
Now Homa is ready to turn the page, and retire at the end of June.
“The children were a joy to be with,” said Homa, a Rocky River resident who grew up in North Olmsted and graduated from Magnificat High School. She recalled that from an early age she had always loved books and wanted to be a librarian.
Although she was interested in working with children, Homa stated that at the time she received her master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, “there was not as much focus on specialties” in library work. After graduation she worked as a children’s librarian for the Mahoning County Library system for about four years and resided in Boardman, near Youngstown. In 1981, she was given the opportunity to return “home,” and became head of children’s services for the Rocky River Public Library.
Looking back on her years with the library, Homa has seen research tools for children evolve from encyclopedias to Wikipedia.
“The technology was very gradual, so it was not that hard to learn,” recalled Homa, who said that computers were first introduced to the library in the mid-1980s.
Tools such as Smart boards allow parents to sing along during preschool programs. An offering called TumbleBooks allows children to listen to stories online, and the related TumbleReaders offer read-along tales.
Although Homa feels that children are still very interested in reading, there is a shorter attention span now.
“We used to tell longer stories, but the picture books now are shorter,” she stated. Quality has improved, however, especially when it comes to artwork.
“The production is great for picture books. In the past, we were lucky to have three colors,” recalled Homa, adding that while she does try to read most of the children’s books, she always reviews picture books.
Throughout the years, fantasy has always been a popular subject for children, according to Homa. Fairy tales and folklore still capture imaginations, and teachers will usually do units on mythology for their classes, she said.
Although the preschool and summer reading programs remain the most popular offerings from the department, Homa said, expansion has been made on either end of that spectrum. She was instrumental in beginning programs for babies as well as middle school topics, such as graphic novels.
“Numerous generations of children and parents have come to know and love her,” stated library director of marketing and development Kitty Sommers. “Under her direction, the Children’s Department has blossomed.”
A variety of outside performers have also been a large part of the children’s department, from puppeteers to popular animal handler Jungle Terry. Homa laughed when recalling one of his visits.
“He had this big snake who managed to crawl quickly away. I think he was trying to find a quiet corner,” she said, adding that the runaway reptile was soon captured.
While she still plans to visit the library as a patron, especially for books on CD, Homa plans on spending more time with family, her garden and her two Great Pyrenees, Hank and Daisy.
Homa hopes her successor will continue to work on children’s literacy, reading preparation and developmental programs.
“There will always be a place for reading. Books may be in a different format, like an e-reader, but they will always be there,” she said.