Adieu to a beloved librarian

Ashland High School students gathered in their library Wednesday during lunch to say goodbye to their beloved teen librarian, John Sexton, whom many of them have known nearly their entire lives.

Sexton is moving to Westchester County, New York next Monday to start his new job as a teen librarian and consultant for 38 independent libraries. He takes with him fifteen years of experience from the Ashland Public Library, where he helped develop a nationally-recognized book talk program to get teenagers excited about reading. Esther Mortensen assumed some of Sexton's former duties on a part-time basis when the libraries reopened in October.

Between bites of cake, students lined up to give Sexton one last hug and thank him for all the suggestions he made when he visited their classrooms.

"You don't know me, but I like you a lot," said freshman Sophie Javna, as she asked for a hug. She recalled one of her favorite books, "Touching Spirit Bear," which Sexton had recommended to her.

"We didn't know him personally, but we really appreciate what he's done," she said.

At the height of the book talk program, Sexton visited every middle school class in Jackson County twice a year to preview new books.

"It's one of the most effective ways to get kids to read," Sexton said, comparing the suspense he created in his presentations to a movie preview.

He was inspired to become a librarian after his sixth-grade son Adam came home from a similar book talk and insisted that his father take him to the library before his classmates could check out the books he heard about, taking Sexton by surprise.

His son is now 26, and Sexton has encouraged thousands of students to keep reading.

"You got me addicted to Scott Westerfield," sophomore Ezra Davis told Sexton. Davis says he has read every book Westerfield has written.

During his time in Ashland, Sexton served on national book review committees, and at one point was averaging one young adult book per day. Then he served on a committee to choose the top ten adult books for teenage readers, which cut his load down to 300 books each year.

"You have to be able to pick an array of books," Sexton said. "There's boy books, there's girl books, books for those kids who don't want to be there and books for those that love to read."

Sexton has been able to reach out to readers from both ends of the spectrum.

"He's always had a gift with getting along with kids," said high school librarian Bill Street. "Kids that were sort of on the outside felt comfortable talking to him."

Freshman Allesandra Geffen regularly racked up library fines while she was a home school student, once reaching $200 in overdue books. Sexton helped work out a system where she could pay back her fines by volunteering in the library and continue to check out the books she loved.

"His recommendations were always phenomenal," she said. "Some of my favorite books came from his recommendations."

Sexton hopes to build up the same kind of book talk program in New York and eventually create a Web presence that students back in Ashland and all over the world can access. But it will take time to establish the trust and collaborative spirit with teachers that he gained in Ashland.

"It's the dream job and the dream community," he said. "The community support for our teens and libraries &

I couldn't do better than Ashland, Oregon. Hopefully it will be like that in New York."

Ashland's readers will miss not only Sexton's recommendations, but his friendship as well. As the celebration wound down, senior Jenna Wixon-Genack came to say her farewells, and they chatted about rowing and her recent application to Stanford.

"I'm really going to miss him," she said. "Whichever library gets him is lucky to have him."

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