A Heart for Children & Literacy

One day, when Karen Alworth was a little girl, her mother found her reading. She was surprised. “You’re not even in first grade yet!” she exclaimed with delight. As she grew older, Karen read to her younger brothers and sister. Not having many books of her own, the local library provided her with books that kept her reading for years to come.

When Royal Alworth was in second grade, he wasn’t reading for comprehension. His father began to read him a book by Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy—stories of nature, of the lessons a grandfather teaches his grandson. Their time reading together was very meaningful, and the stories left Royal hungry to know, “What happened next?”

These two readers married, and they taught their four children to love books, too. Their oldest child began reading in first grade to his three little sisters and in the years to come, they all took a turn reading Harry Potter to each other. Now all of them continue the tradition of loving books and libraries.

Perhaps that is why in 2019 Karen and Royal dedicated themselves to supporting Every Child Ready Duluth, a library-led, community-wide initiative with a single aim: to help ensure that every child in Duluth begins kindergarten ready to learn.

Every Child Ready Duluth focuses on early childhood intervention, providing families with the simple tools needed to help ready their children for school, and promoting a love of reading and lifelong discovery to children. Supported by a coalition of organizations across Duluth, this initiative increases the likelihood that all of Duluth’s preschoolers will succeed when they enter school.

We are grateful for Karen and Royal’s commitment to the youngest members of our community and for their desire that every child in Duluth enter kindergarten ready to learn: with a willing attitude, confidence in the process of learning, and a healthy state of mind.

Mayor Emily Larson (right) applauds as Karen Alworth announces that she and husband Royal (center) support Every Child Ready Duluth and encourage other Duluthians to do so as well.

A Bold Re-Design of the Teen Space

In 2014, teens started showing up at the downtown library in increasing numbers, and the youth librarians were delighted to welcome them. But the librarians soon realized they had a wonderful problem: There was not enough furniture in the teen space to accommodate the number of teens who were coming to the library to read, do homework, and hang out with friends.

Discussions with Library Manager Carla Powers and Youth Services staff brought about an idea: to re-design the teen space, bringing in lime green and sky blue furniture, a vibrant new carpet, and an edgy mural that would identify it as a place specifically for teens. Once the idea was conceived and a budget developed, the Foundation sought funding to make it happen.

As the school year began, the new area was revealed to the public—to the delight of teenagers.

Harbor City International School senior Sara Walsh, who was at the unveiling, said, “I’ve been coming here since, like, sixth grade, so I’ve seen it go from worn-down couches with holes in them to this.”

She added, “I’m so happy.”

High school students pose in the library’s new Teen Space the day it was unveiled in 2014.

O’Keefe, the Library Cat

Soon after the Duluth Public Library opened its new building on Superior Street and 5th Avenue West in 1980, it added a new member to its staff: a long-haired black cat named O’Keefe.

Biz White, who worked in Adult Services, had a friend who was moving and could not take O’Keefe with her. White mentioned it to Janet Schroeder, who was the library director at the time. “We decided to hire her to be a mouser,” recalls Schroeder. She wasn’t aware of any mice in the building, she said. “But if we had any, she got them.”

O’Keefe was not particularly friendly. The staff took care of her, though: she had a litter box in the staff locker room, and people took turns emptying it.

Laura Fournier recalls that the staff developed a discreet public address system code phrase, “Mrs. O’Keefe to the Circulation Desk,” to signal if there were trouble somewhere in the library, although they never had occasion to use it. This would communicate to staff that a problem needed to be attended to without worrying the public.

O’Keefe lived on the lower floor of the library and prowled mostly in staff areas. She soon proved invaluable in solving another problem: bats in the library.

Evidently, during the construction of the building, some bats had made a home in the library and were now trapped. The library featured a motion-activated security system. When the bats flew through the building at night, they triggered the alarm. The library had a problem.

Things changed once O’Keefe arrived.

A custodian, Mairie Lind, witnessed O’Keefe in action early one morning and told Schroeder about it. “O’Keefe took off and made a one-pawed swipe–and that was the end of the bat.”


Janet Schroeder, former director of the Duluth Public Library and one of the Duluth Library Foundation founders.
No one has a photo of O’Keefe, so we are including a photo of another book-loving cat, Indigo, instead.