Meet the librarians


Janine Gassel

Before becoming a librarian, McMullen taught at St. Peter’s Catholic School.

On a typical morning, Bob McMullen starts his day by flicking on the lights of the teen room in the Kirkwood Public Library (KPL). He’ll turn on the computers, make sure everything is tidy and then head over to the much-larger childrens’ room to see if his fellow librarians need any help. Monday mornings, when the Magic House is closed, there can be dozens of kids running around, who he helps keep under control. But he primarily works in the teen room, where he leads games of Dungeons & Dragons, and clubs in just about anything. And of course, he checks out books for you. 

If you grew up in the Kirkwood area, you probably remember walking around the KPL, which has been serving the town for 99 years. Maybe you remember the Summer Reading Program. Or maybe there’s a library card in your wallet right now. This article isn’t about us, though. It’s about the people who make KPL possible. 

Before becoming a librarian, McMullen taught at St. Peter’s Catholic School, where he later became an inclusion facilitator for disabled students. Being an inclusion facilitator meant working with teachers more than students, and he missed working with kids, so he started teaching 5th grade in the Ferguson-Florissant District. He said a shortage in school librarians made it easy for him to get his certification, so he became a school librarian there. Now, he works at the KPL, and he’s not done yet.

Micayla Torres started working in the childrens’ department of the KPL after graduating from New York University. (Janine Gassel)

“I promised myself I’d fully retire at 70,” McMullen said. “Now I’m 66 and I’ve only been here for a year and a half, but I’d like to do one more job before I retire for good.”

McMullen isn’t the exception. The library is a place for people at either end of their career. In the entire teen and child branches of the library, only two people work full-time. Micayla Torres started working in the childrens’ department of the KPL after returning home from New York University, where she graduated with a degree in game design. She wrote for a game, but the project never got the funding it needed to get developed. She hasn’t given up on games though. 

“We just did a live version of Clue [at KPL] last night, which was super fun,” Torres said. “I found the stuff online, and then I tweaked it. It would have been great [to have different rooms in the library as rooms in the game], but I’m just one person.”

Torres said it’s not all fun and games though. She has the job of calling parents and letting them know when items haven’t been returned. As a result, her arch-nemesis is the black landline sitting on her desk. 

“I really don’t like making phone calls,” Torres said with a laugh. “I don’t even like touching the phone. And sometimes the parents don’t think something’s missing, even though it is, so that’s not something I enjoy.”

Sitting on the other side of the desk is Sandy Steinman, a retired highschool French teacher who wanted to keep working. She said there’s lots of nice things about the library but her favorite thing is, well, books. 

Sandy Steinman is a retired high school French teacher who wanted to keep working. (Janine Gassel)

“At home, you can look books up on the internet and go on Amazon,” Steinman said. “But it’s not the same as being here. I have great co-workers too. Everybody’s supportive and we all help each other learn new things.”

Even though McMullen’s had four jobs and plans on getting a fifth before he retires, you’ll notice a common trait between them all. Service. 

“I don’t believe everything is always completely equal,” McMullen said. “But I really do believe in the public services that give all people a chance to make it in America.”