BOISE - The exclamation point outside the Boise Public Library helps explain the atmosphere inside it on Wednesday mornings.
The children's wing is usually the hot spot and Bloomin' Baby Story Time is the reason why.
But before story time begins, away from the hustle and bustle, librarian Azam Houle is hunkered down in her office readying what to read.
Muted moments like these, where the only sounds are the turning of the pages and the clicking of the clock, are few for Azam.
"Do I like it quiet?" she asks. "No, I love it noisy! That's why I work here with kids."
However, Azam doesn't just work with kids. Wednesdays are her time to step into the reading well in her bumble bee shoes.
"Good morning everybody!" she says as she greets the group that has gathered on the ascending steps of the library's little amphitheater.
"It's nice," remarks one parent who has brought along two toddlers. "They like it, I like it, everybody likes it."
Growing up in Iran among a family of doctors Azam was on a path to be a pediatrician. But somewhere between moving to the United States at the age of 18 in 1975 and landing in Boise about two decades ago, Azam was pulled in a different direction, earning a degree in economics and a job as a data analyst.
"It was analyzing data in a very dark room in front of a screen for about nine hours a day," laughs Azam.
But no matter where she lived or what she did for work, Azam was always drawn to her local library.
"Libraries put everything together for me, everything that I love," she says.
So it was no surprise, Azam's best job ever - "ever, ever, ever," she emphasizes - finally found her at the age of 42.
And she has found a receptive audience for the last 20 years at the bottom of this reading well.
"She enjoys it so much and i think they know that, they can just tell," says Linda Brilz, youth services supervisor of the Boise Public Library downtown branch.
"I think we're bonded with her a little bit," says Catherine Mitchell, a parent who has been coming to story time for months. "As much as you can be bonded with someone you see for 30 minutes a week."
And Azam's certainly built a bond with countless kids over the years.
"I think it's an honor and a privilege to be able to say that I've had, however minor, a role in the life of this child growing up," she says.
Over the years, Azam's become almost as much a part of the downtown branch as the 65,000 books stacked on the kid's section shelves.
But today she decided to tell everyone she will soon be walking away from the reading well and retiring.
"I've worked at the library for 20 years," she says, struggling to find the right words. "And, um, I will be saying farewell on December 1."
As you can imagine, that was tough news to hear and to deliver.
"It was. It was. I think um," Azam says, unable to continue.
So Azam leaves today's session, which always ends with a good-bye song, with only about two months-worth of good-bye songs left as the leader of the Wednesday morning story time group. A group that has become more of a family.
"And I think that's the hardest part because who says good-bye to their family," asks Azam.
She won't be too far away, though. Azam says even though she is stepping away from her role in December she will continue to be a life-long patron of the library.
And she is not going to be far from helping kids, either. She has plans to dedicate her time to children's health, education, and social justice issues.
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