The well-read traveler: Jen Pace Dickenson talks love for books, children and traveling

Published 10:00 pm Friday, June 10, 2016

Jen Pace Dickenson, youth services librarian at the Polk County Public

Jen Pace Dickenson

Jen Pace Dickenson

Library in Columbus, has a wide variety of achievements on her resume. 

She’s traveled to 36 different countries, taught in Korea and graduated from the University of North Carolina Asheville in 2004 with her bachelor’s degree in sociology.

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“I discovered there aren’t really jobs for that,” Dickenson said. “So, I was thinking about going back to school to do teaching and I moved to Korea to teach English instead and did that for two years and ended up hating teaching, but not Korea.”

One of the most fascinating places she has visited is Southeast Asia and she said she visited nearly every country in Asia while she taught in Korea.

“I like to travel by myself. And I’m bossy, but I’ve noticed a lot of people who have traveled with me really enjoy it because I know exactly what we’re doing because I’ve planned it all out ahead of time,” Dickenson said. “With traveling, if you come with me you can do what I want, or you can do your own thing, but I’m doing my thing so follow me.”

Dickenson said she thinks she was going against the grain when she traveled to Asia as opposed to the popular favorite, Europe. She did, however, do a backpacking trip through Europe after graduating college.

It was when she started reading a fiction novel by the name of “American Wife,” based on former First Lady Laura Bush by Curtis Sittenfield, that she had an epiphany that she should become a librarian.

“I thought it would be great because I would still get to work with kids, but not teaching,” Dickenson explained. “There’s not a lot of discipline and you don’t have to sit in class all year. So, I began to look for master’s degree programs and did it before moving back home.”

Six months after she returned home from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2013, the position as the youth services librarian became available at the Polk County Library.

“I started working with kids in college as a tutor, as YMCA camp counselor and a nanny,” Dickenson said. “I love kids, love books and event planning which I get to do a lot of here so it’s kind of the perfect job for me.”

Reading a lot of different things, as opposed to everything by the same author, is a favorite of Dickenson’s and is convenient as she works in a library.

“I really like Sherman Alexie, Jon Krakauer and I read a lot of young adult novels partially because of my job,” Dickenson said. “I kind of go back and forth between reading fluffier novels and adult books.”

However, she did claim to have never read or seen the Harry Potter books or movies despite reading a lot of young adult books, which she said is shocking to most people who learn of her and her position as a youth librarian.

“My 14-year-old stepdaughter was obsessed with them last year and read them all,” Dickenson said.

Murder mysteries are her favorite genre to read now. Dickenson even writes a column for the Bulletin detailing her reading experiences.

“I was always kind of a natural reader, and with my brother, I’ve only convinced him to read two books in his adult life, “Lone Survivor” and “American Sniper” because he’s a firefighter,” Dickenson said. “I think, with these kids, reading is the key to everything when it comes to their education. That’s where it all starts.”

The library offers story time sessions for babies up to two years old on Thursdays at 10:30 a.m., which Dickenson said some people find strange but she explained it is introducing vocabulary and preparing them for school.

“It’s the core for all other education,” Dickenson said. “I think kids should be able to read whatever they want, and I understand assigned readings at school, but I think they should be encouraged to read what they enjoy, too.”

Graphic novels are really popular at the library because Dickenson said they are a way for reluctant readers to get engaged when they see the pictures in the books. Video game books based on Minecraft, and movie books based on pop culture properties like Star Wars, are also very popular.

“For the size of our community and county, we have a pretty happening library,” Dickenson said.

This summer, the library has a schedule of events that will kick off with the Mutt Strut 5K run at Harmon Field on June 18 at 8 a.m.  Participants are encouraged to bring their dogs or volunteer to walk a dog from the Foothills Humane Society at the event.

Nintendo Wii Super Mario Smash Brothers and Nintendo Wii U Mario Kart tournaments will be held on June 23 and July 21, respectively. A Dungeons and Dragons tournament hosted by Dickenson’s husband, Chad, will also take place this summer for teenagers ages 13 to 18. A special pool party at Gibson Pool will be on Wednesday, Aug. 10 at 9:30 to end the summer.

“The summer will end with a pool party at Gibson Pool for the first 60 people who read 10 hours on their reading log over the summer,” Dickenson said. “The Parks and Recreation Department let us rent the pool for the morning and that will be fun.”

Overall, Dickenson said she could not imagine herself doing anything else now that she has found a home at the Polk County Library.

“I’m still young and enthusiastic, and I love it,” Dickenson said. “I’m doing exactly what I want to do.”