While standing between rows of children's books waiting for her photo to be taken, Library Services Director Nancy Martinez notices a book about pet rabbits is out of place. She plucks it from the bookcase and reshelves it.
Since she was 14, Martinez has dreamed of working in a library. Throughout the decades, her passion for helping people learn new information has only grown stronger.
As the library director for the last 15 years, Martinez has watched her profession change from using limited card catalogs to specialized search commands to sort through the vast landscape of the Internet.
Whether it is speaking in front of the Lodi City Council or talking to potential donors, the 64-year-old lifelong librarian is always eager to discuss the services the community resource provides.
"Nancy has done incredible things here at this library in her time here," Library Services Manager Andrea Woodruff said. "She really has brought the library into the 21st century as far as that is possible given our budget."
Martinez, 64, retired this week after decades in the library profession. In her retirement, Martinez hopes to give back to the community, spend time with family and work on her yard and garden. And of course, the lover of books will continue reading.
During her time as director, Martinez has created a library website with multiple resources, started teen and adult education programs that include nationally-known guest speakers, and a literacy program for all ages located at the library — but some tutors even travel to a local winery to meet with students.
Her job has personally changed from focusing on learning and books to researching various e-book companies, organizing a program to help seniors learn how to use computers, and helping design and orchestrate a $1.8 million library renovation.
But the main key that attracted her to the profession has remained the same. People need ways to access information, learn new skills and connect with their community. And they need someone who shares their enthusiasm for learning to guide them.
"I have always enjoyed knowing for the sake of knowing," Martinez said. "I never needed to have a purpose for the information I was learning in the future, but I just wanted to find out the answer (just) to know it. I love learning something new every day."
Curiosity from an early age
While going to Mira Loma High School in Sacramento, Martinez worked in a library for the first time. During a study period, she would help type up the catalog cards and sort books.
"I was a terrible typist. One time I was typing a catalog card and bored a hole in the card with an electric eraser trying to fix my mistake," she said.
When Martinez was growing up, career paths were limited for women. The choice was become a teacher or a nurse. Martinez cannot stand the sight of blood, so nursing was out. She also did not like speaking in front of crowds.
"I was really, really shy, and decided I couldn't stand up in front of people to teach," she said. "I got it in my head that being a librarian was still a teacher, but one-on-one."
Martinez worked her way through libraries in Utah and the San José area, serving as a youth librarian, an adult librarian and branch head before coming to Lodi in the early 1990s.
"By the time I came here, I had done almost everything," Martinez said.
One of the main reasons Martinez enjoys her job is because she has been able to work with a variety of people.
"Libraries serve people from infancy to old age. Anybody who needs our services are welcome," she said.
As she progressed through her career, Martinez began to realize how much people depend on the library to teach them about everything from complex theories, to how things work, to sports trivia.
"You wonder anything, where do you go? You go to the library," she said.
With the Internet, the library has been able to provide more thorough — and faster — answers to customers. In the past, if someone had a request in Lodi that the librarians couldn't answer, they filled out a form, which was sent to Stockton to see if research librarians there could answer the questions. If not, then the form went to San Francisco or Los Angeles. Sometimes requests took months.
Martinez remembers one instance where a man wanted to know the science behind a bulletproof vest.
"That information is not necessarily out there, so a librarian in L.A. called the manufacturer. We ended up getting a sheet of paper explaining how it works directly from the manufacturer," she said.
But not all questions are so complex. When Martinez worked in Utah, occasionally people would come in or call to ask specific sports questions.
In one instance, after checking the baseball statistic annals, she told a man an answer, and then she heard yelling in the background.
"He said, 'Gee, thanks! I just won $50,'" she said.
Going beyond bricks and mortar
While providing information is key, Martinez has also dedicated a large chunk of her career to updating the Lodi Public Library — both the building and the technology.
Woodruff, who has worked with Martinez for years, said her colleague has always been passionate about finding ways to improve the library and its services.
"She's certainly one of the most compassionate people I have ever known," Woodruff said. "She is quite charming and entertaining. She's sharp and she cares."
Those attributes helped with the $1.8 million library renovation she spearheaded in 2009, which is what Martinez calls her biggest single achievement. The project provided a much-needed facelift to the building on Pine Street.
"That was the biggest and the most lengthy project," she said. "The building was not serving the community as well as it could have, and there was limited access to technology."
The improvements included new restrooms that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, family restrooms, more conference space including two tutoring areas, a new ADA ramp in front of the library and a brand new air conditioning and heating system.
To be able to complete the overhaul, Martinez had to find a temporary location to host the library for more than six months. She ended up moving into a building on Pine Street, and librarians had to move more than 3,000 books to the new location.
Then Martinez helped oversee the entire construction project.
"If you haven't done it before, it was complicated," she said.
The rest of the library still needs to be revamped, as noted by the mustard yellow carpet dividing line that Martinez says has haunted her dreams. The Lodi Public Library Foundation is currently raising the $600,000 to $800,000 necessary to finish.
Upgrades are not limited to brick and mortar, however. When Martinez started as director, Lodi Library did not have many of the formats others did, such as audio CDs, VHS tapes, DVDs, CD-ROMs and an online book and materials catalog.
"People were still using typewriters," Martinez said. "There was a lot of catching up into the 20th century before it ended. Technology is so fast, we are behind again."
Recently, the city has introduced e-books. The library has created programs for older citizens to take a variety of computer literacy courses and job seekers can book time in the computer lab to fill out applications.
As more and more businesses and state agencies only accept online applications, offering free computer access has become crucial, Martinez said.
"With the economy, it has really driven people into the library for computer learning to help them find employment," Martinez said. "Maybe they were really doing well at a job, and then the company downsized. It's been 15 years since they had to go looking and everything has changed."
Remaining the community's 'living room'
In the future, Martinez sees the library continuing to grow its presence online. People are wanting to speak with librarians through text messages and email as opposed to coming into the library. One of the challenges will be not only paying for the new technology but training staff on how to use the new resources and develop programs.
But even more importantly, Martinez said the library has to remain dedicated to finding more and more ways to encourage people to walk through its doors.
The formerly shy teenager who was worried about speaking in front of groups has discovered that her favorite part of the job is going out into the community and sharing all the wonderful services offered at the library.
"It's important to be involved in some interactions in the community and maintain those relationships, because it keeps the library in the mind of the people," Martinez said. "So many people think they don't need the library with their smartphones and e-readers, but we do so many other things."
Art aficionados make a point to stop at the library every first Friday of the month to check out one of the main Art Hop locations. Children, teens and adults participate in the summer reading program every year, which can include field trips and other special events. Book clubs have abounded.
Kids and adults who do not know how to read or need help with homework spend one-on-one time with volunteers. Shy kids who normally would not read out loud find their voice while sitting next to Fuzzy, a 6-pound Maltese-teacup poodle mix.
Groups wanting to meet in the community rooms always find an open door, and Martinez regularly worked late to make sure people could meet.
"We have no storage because I keep turning the storage into services for the library," she said.
Making the library accessible to the community can be directly tied to Martinez's work, Woodruff said.
"The library is not a warehouse. It's a place where people can go and connect with other community members over a variety of things," she said.
She pointed to programs like two events discussing the U.S. Constitution and bringing in a veteran to discuss post-traumatic stress disorder as an important aspect of the library's mission. Woodruff hopes programs like these will continue, even with Martinez leaving.
"It's important to bring people together in the community who don't necessarily have any contact with each other and let them ask questions and start a discussion. That's a real community service," she aid.
When asked about the successes of the library, Martinez recalled the story of one woman who came into the computer learning center who had spent her career working in the fields.
The woman took all of the available classes, and then spent her spare time practicing what she learned on the library computer.
Once she had mastered typing, she applied for job. Now, she works at a local business typing medical records.
"She took everything we had to offer and it ended up changing her life," she said. "We change lives."
Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at email@example.com.