Staff Spotlight: Karen Berry

Born and raised in Omaha, Neb., Karen Berry has dedicated more than two decades of her life to giving back to the community through her work at Omaha Public Library (OPL). While completing her college degree, Berry gained valuable library experience as a school librarian in Springfield, Neb. In 1994, Berry secured a part-time position as a Library Specialist at Millard Branch during the Summer Reading Program. Assigned based on system-wide needs, she trained at various branches, recognizing the importance of familiarizing oneself with each community and its resources.

Within a year, she had expanded her knowledge to every branch, emphasizing her commitment to community engagement.

“You really need to move around; you really get to know the community,” Berry says. “It’s important to get familiar with what each community has to offer and meet people who can connect you with those resources.”

In 1997, Berry's dedication earned her a promotion to full-time Library Specialist, and she was relocated to the Washington Branch.

“A manager told me that Washington Branch needs some help, and you’ll be there for two weeks,” she says. “Eight years later, that became the longest two weeks of my life.”

In 2004, Berry saw an opportunity for growth and seized it, earning a promotion to full-time Youth Librarian. This move brought her to the Swanson Branch, where she embarked on a new chapter of her career. Across multiple OPL locations, Berry embraced the chance to connect with various library staff and patrons, cherishing the friendships she formed along the way.

“That's the beauty of this job — the lasting connections you can make,” Berry says.

As the community expanded, so did OPL. It was a delightful surprise when children who once attended Berry's storytime at Washington Branch grew up to become her colleagues. One memorable moment occurred during a staff meeting when a young man approached her, asking, “Hello, Mrs. Berry, do you remember me?” She was happy to see former library kids eager to promote the same services they once enjoyed.

However, Berry's fondest memories revolve around her role as the library mascot, Scamper. For 25 years, she brought joy to countless library events, dressed in the iconic costume.

”I loved every minute of it,” she says. “If I could, I'd do it all over again.”
She recalls the public community vote to select the mascot and its name. When the Scamper costume got an upgrade in 1995, she was one of the first people to wear him.

“I got to meet so many people, as Scamper,” she says. “From playing hockey and football to attending Mascot Day at Werner Park, every moment brought joy to others, and I loved every minute of it.”

Berry says the most challenging part of working so long within an organization is the chapters of change. During her time she got the opportunity to meet various directors and each one had a different vision for the library. Berry navigated through multiple management styles, changing policies, and expectations.

“That was the hardest part, trying to figure out changes in management, technology, and programming.” She says. “As we progress we lose things, and we gain things; the hard part is trying to find a balance.”

Upon retiring, Berry found herself missing her OPL family the most.
“We've formed such strong bonds over the years,” she says. “They're not just coworkers – they're family.” In the close-knit environment of the library, Berry became a part of her colleagues' lives, celebrating their successes and offering support during challenging times.

Karen Berry's time at OPL was defined by dedication and a profound connection to the communities she served. Now, as she steps into retirement, she looks forward to the freedom of each day, expressing her desire to travel more without any concrete plans. Her legacy of service and love for connecting with others will continue to warm the hearts of those she touched, reminding us all the lasting impact of kindness and connection in our lives.

“This job was the best job I’ve ever had,” Berry says. “This is the one job where if you like to read, meet people, or learn new things, this is it.”