NORTH PROVIDENCE – Reference Librarian Joseph Uscio cited his recent 65th birthday – celebrated last Friday – as a major factor in his decision to retire from the North Providence Union Free Library, effective Sept. 1.
“My son is 10. I want to spend time with him. There are things I put off doing that I want to do, said Uscio, of North Providence. “And another factor is I want to retire before my body falls apart. Some people wait and they get less and less able to do things. I figured while I have my health it’s a good time to retire. I’m just about retirement age.”
On Feb. 6, 1984, Uscio began his career at the North Providence Library. But not at the Union Free Library on Mineral Spring Avenue– at the former location at 9 George St., built in 1962.
“They were planning a modern building, a larger building,” Uscio said about the Union Free Library. “This is a converted ice rink. We opened in 1985 and then officially dedicated in 1986,” he said.
In 1986 Uscio said he was designated as the Reference Librarian Department head. His duties include overseeing the staff scheduling, moving the department ahead as well as answering reference questions and pulling materials in the morning. He has worked Monday through Saturday for just over 37 years.
“I’ve been here as late as 1:40 in the morning,” Uscio recalled. “We lost power once and we were worrying about the bathrooms freezing. It was during a blizzard. I remember that experience. I usually fill in when people are on vacation. So a lot of times it’s a six day week.”
Since he is such a fixture at the library, he said he has been gradually letting people know that he is retiring. He said he has made so many connections over the last 37 years. So much so that he said people will come up to him in the market and ask if their books have come in yet.
“It’s been a pleasure helping the citizens of the town,” he said. “I’ve developed a lot of relationships with them. It’s nice to have a job you love.”
Uscio did not always have the dream of being a librarian. In fact, he began his college career at the University of Rhode Island as a pre-med major. Not enjoying that career path, he realized while working at the URI library that that was a better fit for him.
“I worked at a library and I liked it,” he said. “I had different backgrounds, the science, the music, the literature, math. I said I could use everything in this job. It tests your reserves here. When somebody asks you a question, pretty much all of your experiences and your knowledge comes into play.”
Despite working at the college level, he decided to move to a public institution returning home to North Providence but worked at different areas of the URI library. He would graduate from URI with a degree in library science.
“I worked circulation, reference and reserves,” he told The Breeze. “But I liked it. I remember buying, when they had a book sale, a set of Dewey Decimal and I said, ‘Oh this is great. I’m going to learn it.’ It was like a big set of books.”
Uscio still uses that recall to this day knowing where a book on interior decorating would be located, at 747 or even French Cooking as he called out the number 641.594.
He said his favorite part of the job is helping people.
“I always took the outlook that people come in for a reason and I try to give them what they want,” he said. “They come in and will leave with something, whether it’s a book, information or just the experience of coming in. I love helping people. Plus this job has always given me a mental stimulation.”
A big thing Uscio went through was using the actual physical card catalog, and was part of the transformation of everything going digital on computers. He said that every new book they needed to have a card with the author, the title and the subject, and sometimes you couldn’t tell if the book was already checked out. With everything on the computer, libraries can share material. He also said that they can create waiting lists for checked out or incoming new releases.
Uscio, being a reference librarian, is well rounded and has many interests. He said he almost minored in music in college. He used to write and compose music,, but with all of the moving around he did, he said, he lost it all. Now he transcribes and arranges music.
These days his main hobby is Japanese culture. He said he’s been into all things Japanese since 1990. He plays Japanese instruments and he likes to make Japanese dishes, making sushi each week for the last 29 years. He hopes to continue to immerse himself more in the Japanese culture once he retires.
The first thing he will do when he retires is go to McDonalds and get scrambled eggs and hotcakes, he said. From there he will have much more time to spend with his son and pursue other interests. But the library will never be far from his mind.
“Yes,” he said when asked if he would be back at the library after retiring. “I’ve been here like everyday for the last 37 and a half years, it’s become like a second family. So many people I’m used to seeing. It’s very supportive here and familiar.”