A Passion for Books & People
Kelsie Rubich takes reading on the road for our seniors
For the past 2-and-a-half years, Billings has been lucky enough to host Kelsie Rubich’s passion for libraries and people. She just so happens to be the Seniors Librarian at the Billings Public Library. A Washington native, Kelsie's work has touched the lives of all ages over the years — from working with children’s programming, then young adult literature to reference desks in Washington and now working with seniors in Billings. It is safe to say she has enjoyed it all. “I love a library. It is this really amazing institution that values access for all. It doesn’t matter if you have $5 in your pocket or $5 million. You get the same services and access to the same information.”
Of the Billings Public Library Kelsie says, “It is such an incredible building. It is such a gift to have in our community. There are so many wonderful programs for all ages. The architecture is amazing. It is really special. I am really lucky to get to work here.” However, even that incredible building would be nothing without what real life people, like Kelsie, bring to it.
The Senior Librarian’s job includes programming inside the library and in remote locations all over the city. Several days during the week, Kelsie and her assistant, Mary Leichner, climb into a mobile library truck and travel to more than 20 different senior residential facilities. The facilities range from nursing homes to independent living facilities. At each location, Kelsie and Mary unload hundreds of books, movies and audio books on wheelchair-height carts and set up this library on wheels.
The residents are always eager for her to arrive. Some even wait at the door. Being a librarian to these patrons is a much more personal endeavor than just checking books in and out. Kelsie knows most of “her” patrons by name and they obviously love her. Warm, compassionate and invested, she asks about their health, families, and lives. “People want to tell me a lot”, says Kelsie with a smile. “I think they appreciate the attention. With this job, I am able to get to know them because I see them every month. There are some hilarious characters! They are wonderful people who will tell you their life story if you just spend a minute with them.”
In addition to providing the mobile library, Kelsie will bring special titles to residents if requested and even do specialized research if they ask. She goes above and beyond to help seniors with the resources they want or need. Ed Lundgren, a resident at Billings Health and Rehab is one of Kelsie’s biggest fans. He says, “Kelsie has even helped me with research for a book I’m writing.”
The senior's mobile library circulates 6,000-8,000 titles. The most popular items are the large print books. DVD’s are also very popular, as streaming media hasn’t yet become common in the facilities she serves. Many of the large print titles will circulate from the mobile library into the larger library and out to other outreach libraries. Kelsie rotates her stable of books about every three months. When it comes to hot topics, for this crowd, mysteries, historical romance, westerns and Montana History are the top picks.
For Kathy Asbeck who provides life enrichment services for those at Billings Health and Rehab, this mobile library is a game changer. When she checks out a movie or books, it is usually so she can host movie night for residents in the memory care unit or have a few titles to read aloud to residents whose vision might not be the best. “It means so much to the residents to have the library here,” she says. “We use it a lot!”
Seniors are also getting more social thanks to a senior book club that the library recently added to its offerings. Staffers put together book club kits and once a month, Kelsie or another volunteer spark conversation about the book with those in the club. The program has been so popular that there aren’t enough facilitators to serve all the requests to start new clubs.
Thanks to Kelsie, you don’t have to live in a senior living facility to take advantage of senior services. Gerry Purvis is one example of a senior who knows and loves that fact. She is homebound but still enjoys having the benefit of the library because once a month Kelsie brings her a new bag of books that she has already picked out to read. During this month’s visit, Gerry expressed frustration that she could not figure out how to charge the new laptop computer her children bought her for Christmas. Within minutes, Kelsie found the cord and helped Gerry to get her new computer charged. These kinds of requests are not unusual. Kelsie has helped seniors with all kinds of technology issues — from cell phones and tablets to laptops and computers. In addition to her “rounds” at senior living facilities, Kelsie makes more than 40 house calls each month for personal deliveries.
One day Marguerite told her librarian, Kelsie, “I can’t leave my bed or go outside, but the stories you bring me take me places. They help me forget about the pain. I truly can’t thank you enough.” Kelsie says with emotion, “Marguerite’s comments were so touching and it made me see what I do in a different light. Some days I think I’m just doing my job delivering books, but she showed me that I’m actually helping her get through a really difficult period toward the end of her life. This makes what I do feel especially meaningful.”
When Leslie Modrow, Development Director of Billings Public Library Foundation, first came on board 10 years ago, senior outreach was the first program to be the target of fundraising. Of Kelsie, she says, “She is a great fit for her job. She is a really interesting, dynamic person. She brings a completely different light to a program that is stereotyped. She is young, totally engaged, and compassionate to a community that is much older than she is. They absolutely love her. She has become a part of their lives.”
“I love my job,” says Kelsie, “There are great positives, but it can also be really sad sometimes.” Death is an aspect of her job that “never gets easier.” She says, “Sometimes their families will let me know or I will come across their obituaries. It is just really sad. It is hard for me to lose people.”
Leslie and Kelsie both agree with the 60+ generation growing rapidly, the demand for seniors programming is growing just as fast. “We need 7 more Kelsies”, says Leslie. “There is more demand than we can fulfill. We need to be able to get to more facilities.” The program does much with limited staffing. “Just in the time I have been here, the home delivery number has doubled. Also, I am seeing more people attending the mobile libraries,” says Kelsie.
Just like Kelsie does on her home visits, she teaches classes at the library to break down technological barriers with the older generation. Kelsie explains, “E-readers, computers and cell phones can be frustrating. I do one-on-one tutoring sessions at the library now, but I see us doing more and more technology support. There are not many places older adults can go for technology instruction and we are probably the only place where this kind of service is free. It is a great feeling to be able to help people learn something new and make using their devices less intimidating.”
From home visits to being on the go with her library on wheels, Kelsie Rubich sparkles through it all. She is the perfect blend of passion, compassion, and knowledge for her job. The Billings Public Library along with the hundreds of people she serves can all attest to the fact that she’s a lifeline for learning, imagination and entertainment, a truly unique treasure for the community.