Einstein famously wrote to the grieving widow of his best friend, Michele Besso, that “the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." I think it was meant to comfort her, but to find oneself stuck in the present without a dear friend or loved one isn’t very comforting, is it?
For many of us at San José Public Library, time feels bitterly linear. We have entered the After Scott Era, and we miss the past. Scott Kimizuka died on Sunday, April 11, a mere week before clocking 40 years of service at SJPL. Scott started employment with the City of San José as a teenager in 1981 and he never sought employment elsewhere. His lifetime of service marks a distinct era for this department, regardless of Einstein’s concept of illusive time.
In the days following the news of Scott’s passing it’s been one staggering discovery after another of the incredible reach Scott’s hand had in staff development. So many current library staffers first learned the ropes from Scott. Scott’s classification for the majority of his career was library assistant. For those who are not familiar with the dichotomy of a public library, please try to understand the importance of this role. In the library world, a library assistant is to a branch what a head nurse is to a hospital unit. The nursing staff, specifically the managing nurse, are the glue that keeps all operations humming. They are the eyes and ears that catch the most crucial details, and escalate those details to doctors and administration. Similarly, library assistants are responsible for daily operations that keep the collections moving out and in, and handle tricky customer accounts issues. It cannot be overstated that San José Public Library depends heavily on all of our skilled library assistants, and the reliable clerical teams they build. Scott was a leader in this classification. He had an expertise in scheduling, materials handling, customer service, accounts, shelving and training. Scott shined as a trainer, so much so, he often trained new recruits for the whole system. Those who worked under Scott are consistent in reporting that Scott was principled and he always had their back. This is important. For all future managers out there, note that supporting your staffers as Scott did, especially in front of a customer, has incredible power to develop employees. Scott had a gift to support his staff and present options to customers. Customers typically walked happily away and Scott often utilized the aftermath to retrace the employee’s steps. He was known for coaching through the phrase, “here’s what I would have done in that situation.”
Though he was a go-to trainer for the library system, Scott was a “branch” guy through and through. His career was spread across the following branches: Pearl, Hillview, Evergreen, Cambrian and lastly Berryessa Branch. It was at Berryessa Branch that Scott intended to remain until retirement, working alongside Branch Manager Candice Tran. Candice recently described Scott as, “an ordinary man who had an extraordinary impact on the library.” In fact, City Librarian Jill Bourne took the extraordinary step to request the Library and Education Commission adjourn the April 21 meeting in Scott’s honor. “Adjourning in honor of a significant individual in the community is a fairly common practice for the City Council, but to my knowledge hasn't been done at the Commission before,” said Jill. Part of her reasoning was that the pandemic would present challenges to come together to honor Scott. Part of it was the nature of Scott’s work, “I also felt that it would be good for our Commission to be able to recognize and understand the impact of a staff member who is otherwise not as visible to them, but who has such influence throughout the system by mentoring so many, and in the community they serve.”
When he wasn’t training fledgling pages and clerks, Scott wowed them with his storied shelving speed. Shelving races among staff are commonplace in libraries everywhere, and in our library Scott was widely regarded as a reigning champ.
When I was promoted to full-time librarian in 2017, I was assigned to Berryessa Branch. Scott had a profound impact in my own development as a manager. I recall observing on multiple occasions casual 1-on-1 discussions that Scott would initiate in the workroom with new employees he supervised. After a couple weeks, Scott would ask the following question to his new hire, “are you happy here?” I loved how concise and direct his simple question was. I would eavesdrop from my desk on the other side of a partitioned cubicle. Long, relaxed conversations most often ensued. Later, as a branch manager I realized this was how he initiated regular check-ins. But, what I found groundbreaking was that Scott’s main concern was his employee’s happiness!
Scott was happy with his life. Everything was enough for him. Reportedly, his supervisors had to nudge him to apply for each promotion that he received at SJPL. He was content and also a bit shy. But, his supervisors saw in him a quiet leadership, and so many of us were enriched by the decision to utilize his potential.
No one has a single story, but if I had to use one description for Scott I would say that he was one of the most generous people I have ever met. His gift was being interested in others. He would learn about people and then, quietly leave them thoughtful gifts. His ability to give was inspiring. And, I wish he could know how popular he ended up being in the end! Knowing Scott, the idea of being a popular guy at SJPL would mildly impress him, but also mortify him!
As it turns out, I’m not limited to one description of Scott in this blog post! Scott was uncomfortable with being the center of attention, but he had a good sense of humor, which resulted in attention. He was proud of his family, and is survived by his mother, sister and brother. He was proud of his Japanese American heritage and the family ties he had in Hawaii. He loved food, and he loved sharing food more. He was an avid baseball card collector and season ticket holder with the San José Giants, where he enjoyed researching minor league prospects and chasing down the autograph. His favorite card shop was in West San Jose, and a visit to his favorite card shop often resulted in a ramen run at Mitsuwa Marketplace. Scott loved cinema, and reveled in the explosion of great television made in this past decade. He enjoyed a good time travel story, and did his best to break down the time travel arc in the Marvel Universe to less adept people like myself.
Maybe we are all to be comforted with the thought that Scott was -- or is-- traveling through space at a different speed than us? Maybe I am completely misunderstanding Einstein’s interpretation of how time works. It wouldn’t be surprising because I still can’t understand how quantum time is supposed to work in Endgame. All I know is Scott tried his best to explain it to me, and that will have to be enough.
written by Emily Lowell