If you’ve ever had the need for library services in Waimea, it’s likely that Jo Ann Koga has had a part in it. Need to order a book from another library? That would be Koga, who is in charge of the holds. Need the newest book by your favorite author? You’d find Koga sitting behind the circulation desk with a stack of new books, quietly creating bib records while answering questions and checking out books.
She is one of those unobtrusive people who steadily goes about the business of getting books into the hands of patrons and navigating the library system. But at the end of June, Koga will be retiring from Thelma Parker Library after 29 years as a Library Assistant IV. Koga has been an anchoring force through staff changes and the waves of Waimea School children who have flowed through the doors. To anyone who has worked with Koga, she is a subtle undercurrent of calm and order.
“I’ve worked with Jo Ann for over 29 and I have never seen her flustered. She is our anchor at the library. We are out of sync when she’s not here,” reflected fellow library assistant, Juanette Cordeiro.
A native of Hilo, Koga attended Hilo College (later to become the University of Hawaii) and received a degree in education, but her shy, soft-spoken manner didn’t suit her to teaching.
While she was in college she remembers, “I went to the library in Hilo and I was thinking, ‘I wonder how to get a job here. I would like to work here.’”
After college, she was working at Penny’s when she saw an ad in the paper, took the test and was hired as a Library Assistant II at Laupahoehoe Library. After a promotion to Library Assistant IV, a move to Hilo Library and a return to Laupahoehoe, Koga found her way to Thelma Parker Library and home, where she’s been in charge of the circulation desk, scheduling, student workers, training and soothing angry patrons.
Koga’s almost Zen approach to life and honed communication skills have been a constant contribution to the smooth running of the library. Janet Lam, who was the branch manager when Koga arrived at Thelma Parker, remembers, “She is the person on the staff who can quiet a group of noisy children or calm an irate patron by addressing them in a tone barely above a whisper.”
The years have flown by for Koga, caught up in the love of her job and the many lives she’s touched. Waimea School alumni return with kids of their own and annual mainland visitors send letters of thanks for her assistance. She’s observed library magic transform a silent scowl into a warm smile and like the proverbial neighborhood barkeep has listened to the stories of the many library patrons who have come to the library for help, entertainment and a safe harbor of reflection.
Husband Alan, who retired from the Kamuela post office two years ago, has been wanting Koga to join him.
“I’m ready. I’m old fashioned. Not into computers and all that,” she said. “Now that the library has gotten all these new things like e-books, I feel like I can’t help as much.”
Her concerns are unfounded. Koga’s steadying hand and peaceful presence is part of the fiber that makes our community strong, and her legacy of calm and order will continue to serve Thelma Parker Library and its patrons for many years. So as they say in Waimea, A hui hou ma hape.