'She's leaving an incredible legacy': Ames librarian Jerri Heid, who 'revolutionized youth services,' retiring
Editor's note: This article has been updated due to errors. Lynne Carey worked at the Ames Public Library for 36 years, becoming interim director in 2012 and later director. The Ames Public Library attended the Iowa Library Association conference.
Jerri Heid's granddaughter asks her not to wear her nametag when she brings her to school.
She wants to avoid the droves of children who often greet her grandmother, the Youth Services Director at Ames Public Library.
"She's, like, 'You're just supposed to be my grandma. You're not supposed to be Ms. Jerri'," Heid's daughter Erin Bettazza said.
Little did her granddaughter realize, even without her nametag, the kids still recognize Heid, and even without one of her costumes, some still call her Mary Poppins. After over 16 years with the library, Heid is ready to retire, leaving a legacy of revolutionizing youth services, the former Ames Public Library director said.
"We can't go anywhere without kids coming up," Betazza said, who went through the same experience as her daughter when she was growing up. "I still have that. We went to the farmer's market the other day, and I think, like, eight people stopped to talk to us."
Heid was born a people person who loved to talk, but this penchant for noise often got her into trouble at the Cherokee Public Library, which she called a "shushing library." This early-on suppression of her voice would one day inspire her to go against the tradition of a silent library.
"I didn't think that was very empowering," Heid said. "Children can't be quiet ... It's not in their nature and to restrict that is, I think, a disservice to their growth and learning."
She would one day add a "no silent" sign behind the desk in the children's department.
But Heid would not find her calling in life in between bookshelves until well into her young adulthood.
A dream librarian come true
Heid's career in libraries started about 30 years ago. She was a nontraditional student, attending Westmar University in her 30s, and landed a job as a library assistant at that same "shushing" library in Cherokee after graduating.
Lynne Carey, who retired as director in 2019 after serving at the Ames library for 36 years, said she watched Heid's career from Cherokee to her next job in 2000 at the newly opened Clive Library.
At the time, Carey and a friend in the "library world" would play a game where they imagined up their dream library where they could hire anyone they wanted, she said.
"We both always picked Jerri Heid as our dream head of youth services," Carey said.
The acclaim was mutual and, at the Iowa Library Association conferences, Heid said people would flock to the much-admired Ames Library staff. So when her predecessor in Ames retired, Heid jumped at the opportunity to work in the college town.
Once hired in 2005, Carey said she tasked Heid with "revolutionizing youth services."
Heid researched trends and incorporated other libraries' programs more than anyone else she'd ever seen, Carey said. In other ways, libraries adopted Heid's ideas, as she was always innovating.
When the library added on its modern extension in 2014, Heid created a layout where the book storage grew with the reading level. For the youngest learners, they access their books from crates — similar to a record store — and the books sat in no strict order, Carey said.
"That, of course, is like, 'Oh my God,' to a librarian because everything's supposed to be in order," Carey said. "But that's how kids can then access the books themselves. They can just stand at a bin, flip through the books, see the beautiful covers and choose their own materials."
And this method further shows Heid's attention to research as kids are more likely to enjoy reading if they can pick their own books.
"It was my dream library services person come true," Carey said. "She's leaving an incredible legacy."
Mary Poppins or 'just Jerri 24 hours a day'
Heid says to wait five seconds in between speaking to a baby. This gives the young learner a chance to respond.
Though gurgles and babbles are usually what come back, their little brains are just beginning to hardwire the earliest understanding of conversation.
"If you think of it like (creating) a pathway in a forest, the more times that pathway is traveled, the faster it happens," Heid said. "The more times they experience it, they can respond faster. But they have to have that time to make that path first."
Along with grabbing a book to read free of charge, this early childhood learning — which should start long before the first day of school, Heid said — is part of what a library can offer and what Heid has loved to do.
Bettazza, who is now a literacy teacher, inherited this love of passing knowledge on to the next generation.
Heid's focus ranged from babies to the teenage years, often helping college students in early education majors.
For the high school students, Heid said some need the library the most, which they refer to as a "brave space" or a safe place to be who you are.
"I think today's world, with technology and social media and everything that they're exposed to and trying to discover who they are, there's not a lot of what we call 'brave spaces'," Heid said.
Making the library a space for everyone is among Heid's achievements, Carey said. Part of the success comes in anticipating the needs of a wide range of people.
"There are lots of books that people don't quite understand why we have them," Heid said. "But not everybody has the same life ... You have to think outside of your life to know what's important."
Her ability to make youth services a warm and welcoming place is clear just by her impact with children throughout the years.
When dressed up as Mary Poppins for an event, Heid said one of her preschoolers approached her and asked how Ms. Poppins made it all the way to Ames. Heid came up with a tale of her flying in on her umbrella on the spot.
Once back as Ms. Jerri, the same preschooler asked if she had seen Mary Poppins earlier. Up until her senior year of high school, the pupil continued to bring up the Disney nanny's visit to Heid.
"She loves people and she really loves children, and it shows," Carey said. "She lights up when she sees a kid and the kids light up when they see her."
In a couple of instances, Carey saw a former pupil of Heid's return to the library as an adult and, just as when they were kids, their faces lit up when Heid was in sight.
"She recognizes kids outside the library; kids recognize her outside the library," Carey said. "She is just Jerri all the time, 24 hours a day."