Staff spotlight: Ken Richardson

If you’re a regular customer here at the Princeton Public Library, you’ve no doubt been helped by the wonderful Ken Richardson at the first-floor checkout desk. Ken is patient, thorough, and routinely demonstrates exceptional customer service. He’s always the first person I go to when I have a question about something, and his positivity never fails to brighten my day!

So, Ken, what are your duties here at the library? How long have you worked at the library, and what was your first job here?

I have now been at the library for a little more than four years, starting in October 2013 as a part-time shelving assistant. Today, I wear many hats, large and small, as a full-time library associate, but my main responsibilities are customer service at the checkout desk and data entry in the lending services office. And I still love shelving: It keeps me close to our collection.

What’s your favorite thing about working at the library?

Helping customers and making them smile. I like to think that, if someone is running around town feeling harried by chores and annoyances, he or she can always come to the library and turn their day around. It’s a special treat when I get to help (or even just say hi to) children. With all due deference to our splendid youth services staff, I love to show children that, in the big world of the first floor, we’re friendly down here, too.

Did you go to the library a lot as a kid? Do you have any fond library memories from that time in your life?

When I was a little kid in Illinois, I often went to the Skokie Public Library. I remember how cozy I felt during story time, which took place in a sunken, carpeted nook. As I was learning to read, some of my favorite books there were Sam and the FireflyA Fish Out of Water, and the Dr. Seuss classics–in other words, mischievous stuff, all of it. Fun facts: Sam was written and illustrated by Seuss colleague P. D. Eastman, who also illustrated Fish, which was written by Helen Palmer, wife of Seuss.

When you’re not working at the library, what are things you like to do in your spare time?

Listen to music–the old-fashioned way, in a big chair, in front of good speakers. Also, because I’m the keeper of the Richardson Family archives, I like to work on our family tree and organize the family photos.

In addition to working at the library, you work as a copy editor. Do you have any recommendations for our customers about good editorial resources that might be helpful to them as they work on business correspondence or essays for school?

Each of those topics is covered in Laura Brown’s How to Write Anything. Meanwhile, at the risk of dating myself, I can still recommend Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style–for the basics, for everyone. (The book is such a classic, it’s simply known as “Strunk & White.” Strunk was English professor William Strunk, Jr., and White was E. B. White–yes, the author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web.) A more modern version: Jane Straus’s The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation (which has a helpful online presence at Lastly, a few words of advice from yours truly: Keep it clear and concise. And never, ever, ever plagiarize.

Have you read any good books lately? Or discovered any good movies or TV shows that you could recommend to our customers

Springboarding from your previous question, I’m starting to read Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing. I’m familiar with the author from the evocative meditations on farm life that he used to write for the editorial page of The New York Times, later collected in The Rural Life. (Local tie-in: Klinkenborg has a Ph.D. in English literature from Princeton University.)

As for movies, several customers have told me how much they were impressed by the acting of Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (currently in theaters). I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m a big fan of Hawkins, and if customers would like to see more examples of her remarkable range, I’d recommend Maudie (a biopic about Canadian folk painter Maud Lewis) and Happy-Go-Lucky (a slice-of-British-life seriocomedy that includes hysterical scenes of her character learning to drive from an unhinged instructor). She’s also notable in Made in Dagenham and Blue Jasmine.

I know you’re a big music fan. What’s your musical background? Were you once in a band?

I was! Played bass in my high-school hard-rock band Friction. Claim to fame: We placed second in a Battle of the Bands on the Jersey shore. I would go on to study music history in college, and in my pre-library career, I was the popular music editor of several NYC-based magazines, including High FidelityStereo Review, and Sound & Vision, where I assigned and wrote reviews and interviewed the likes of Neil Young and the late Chris Cornell.

What are some albums in our collection that you love and would recommend to our customers?

Let’s go off the beaten path a bit:

(1) Robert Fripp: Exposure. This is the first solo album from the mastermind of the progressive-rock band King Crimson. It’s wildly eclectic and often challenging. Influences range from pure Crimson to the punk and New Wave music that was swirling about in the year of the album’s release, 1979. Our edition is the two-disc 2006 reissue, with an alternate version of the entire album and more bonuses.

(2) Dr. Demento: 20th Anniversary Collection25th Anniversary Collection, and Dementia 2000!–30th Anniversary Collection. Yes, we have three (three!) two-disc sets of “The Greatest Novelty Records of All Time.” (Look for them at the very beginning of our CD racks: 780.1052 Dem and Doc.) Dr. Demento is the California DJ who, among other things, was the first advocate of parody songs by “Weird Al” Yankovic, brought similar wacky tracks to our attention (“Fish Heads,” “Star Trekkin’,” “The Curly Shuffle”), and championed the musical work of comic artists of the past (Spike Jones, Allan Sherman, Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer).

(3) Jason Falkner: Presents Author Unknown and Can You Still Feel? You’ll find these on Hoopla: the first two solo albums from the singer/songwriter/guitarist who once was a member of two legendary power-pop bands, Jellyfish and the Grays. Each album is an absolute gem, brimming with great writing and playing and chock full o’ tunes, riffs, and hooks.

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about the Princeton Public Library? Is there a service we provide that you think deserves more attention, or that you just particularly like?

On our website, I’m still discovering our Databases A-Z. And as a shout-out to our superb librarians, I recommend using the service called Librarian by Appointment, which is exactly what it sounds like: a full hour, one-on-one, for whatever specialized help a customer needs.

And now for some fun lightning-round questions to wrap things up:

Coffee or tea?


Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Wars then, Star Trek now.

Vinyl or digital?

Digital. But not downloads. I mean CDs, for their accuracy and convenience. (Vinyl sounds nice and warm, but warmth doesn’t equal accuracy.)

Fiction or non-fiction?


Jazz or rock?


Burgers or tacos?


Horror or comedy?

That’s pretty much a draw. When in doubt, send chocolate.

Thank you so much for your wonderful answers, Ken. And to our customers, please don’t hesitate to stop by the first-floor Checkout Desk and say hi to Ken the next time you see him!

Image sources: 1 – Ken Richardson | 2 | 3 | 4

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