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Reporter profile: Jocelyn Clapp Ozolins, the Island’s reference librarian

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Jocelyn Clapp Ozolins

Shortly after she graduated from the University of Michigan, Jocelyn Clapp Ozolins, the head reference librarian at the Shelter Island Public library, interviewed at Borders, the bookstore chain that got its start in Ann Arbor.

Answering questions like, “In which of the following categories, would you put “The Alexandria Quartet,” by Lawrence Durrell?” she aced the shelving test, but lost interest when the interviewer obnoxiously lectured her about the store’s prohibition on chatting during work hours.

The interviewer failed to recognize that for Jocelyn, it was unthinkable to talk while other people are trying to read.

She was born in New Jersey when her father, who was in the Army, was stationed at Fort Dix.

By the time she graduated from high school in Chatham, New Jersey, her family had lived in Newark, East Orange, Orange, Maplewood, and Norwalk. For part of 1971 she lived in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where she had a view of the harbor from her bedroom window. It was an apartment that had been furnished only with brain coral and an enormous Peter Max poster when her family decided to rent it.

Although her parents split up when Jocelyn was four, and she and her younger sister lived with her mother, they saw their father and his new family regularly. “I’m very close to my half-sister, was very close to my dad,” she said. “He was a good guy. He died a few years ago.”

Jocelyn started college at Dickinson, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, but she didn’t like it. “I was a very uneven student, very good in the humanities but not good in math and science.”

She transferred to the University of Michigan, majored in English and art history, and loved Ann Arbor so much that once she graduated, she stayed, working at every kind of job from janitor in a hospital ward for premature babies, to making pizzas at a bar.

“I did nothing useful,” she said.

Intent on ending four years of low-earning jobs and lack of direction, Jocelyn’s father appeared in Ann Arbor and announced he would be driving her back East so she could “start her life.”

Back in New Jersey, she continued to search for a satisfying career, working at dead-end jobs, including a stint in the Pilot Training Department of PEOPLExpress Airlines. When a friend asked her if she’d be interested in sharing an apartment on upper Broadway in the city, she jumped at the chance.

In 1986, she landed a job as a picture researcher at the Bettmann Archive, an extensive collection of images, including some of the iconic photographs of American history. She was finally doing work that was challenging, exciting and played to her strengths, and stayed for 15 years.

“I specialized in trade and text publishing,” she said. “Someone would call and say what they needed and I’d get the photos. Once, Barbara Tuchman called; that was exciting. I learned so much about history.”

Well into her 30s and in a stalled relationship, Jocelyn asked a friend if he knew anyone for her. A dinner was arranged, and although she and Mari Ozolins, a mathematically-literate electrical engineer of Latvian heritage had little in common, they started dating, and found common ground in music.

“It wasn’t one of those romantic comedy kinds of things. We think very differently,” Jocelyn said. “He took me to a lot of concerts. There is mathematics in music.” They married in 1997.

Jocelyn and Mari bought a co-op on East 15th street, and their first child, Evan, was born in 1998. In 2001, when Jocelyn went into labor with their second child, she knew the drill and they headed for the hospital, only to be sent home by an intern who said she wasn’t ready to give birth.

Once she got home and changed into a robe, she realized the baby was coming, and while Mari tried in vain to put pants on a woman in late-stage labor, hoping to get her back to the hospital decently clothed, Jocelyn stated firmly that she wasn’t going anywhere. Mari called for assistance.

“A police officer walked in white as a ghost, and saw me lying on the couch,” she said. “Then an EMT walked around to the end of couch, took one look and yelled, “Get the freaking kit.”

Alex was born shortly thereafter, and a blue stork was affixed to the ambulance, EMS code for an unplanned home birth. Jocelyn was welcomed to the ER with applause.

“I was like Queen Elizabeth,” she remembered. “Even though there was a lot of screaming, that was one of the best days of my life.”

Jocelyn first heard about Shelter Island from one of her clients at Bettmann. “I thought it sounded lovely,” she said, and once the family moved to Orient in 2001, they started visiting to hike at Mashomack.

In 2012, she got a phone call while working the circulation desk at the Greenport library. It’s never a good thing to hear a neighbor saying, “I don’t want to alarm you, but your house is on fire,” but the electrical fire that ruined the house didn’t harm Mari, Evan or Alex, who were all home at the time.

“People were amazing,” Jocelyn said. “They came by with casseroles and someone who didn’t know us sent us a check for $200. It restores your faith.”

Mari built a device he called an “oxygenator” to get the smoke smell out of Jocelyn’s books, and they began rebuilding the house. Then, two months after the fire, on her way home from The Strand bookstore, crossing 14th Street in Manhattan with a walk sign near Union Square, she was hit by a double-decker tour bus.

Taken to Bellevue with broken ribs and a serious concussion, she spent the night throwing up, further tortured by a fellow patient in the ER who sang Broadway show tunes all night. In the end she spent only a day in the hospital, and recuperated at their temporary home in East Marion, grateful she hadn’t been injured more seriously.

The fire and the bus accident ensured that the graduate degree in library science from Syracuse University that Jocelyn had been trying to complete since 2007 would take another two years.

She received her MS in library science in the spring of 2014, and in August of the same year was hired by the Shelter Island Public Library.

One of the reasons she is so effective as a reference librarian — whether for people trying to conduct research, or find a book to read — is her standard reaction to something new, which is, “I’d love to know more about that.”

Part of Jocelyn’s job is to organize programs for the library, and in this role, she’s had the chance to meet some interesting people. “It’s amazing to me the amount of talent that’s here on this little island. So many accomplished people come through this library — people with interesting hobbies, artists, media people — are in this little place with all this talent. I’m always surprised.”

Lightning Round

Favorite place on Shelter Island? Taylor’s Island.

Favorite place not on Shelter Island? Bayside, Maine. It’s a little like Shelter Island, a Methodist/Episcopal settlement on Penobscot Bay.

What exasperates you? Paperwork.

When was the last time you were afraid? When Alex was three, we were at Splish Splash, and he let go of my hand and ran off. He was missing for about 10 minutes in a water park. That was true terror.

What is the best day of the year on Shelter Island? The parties at Wades Beach.

Favorite movie or book? “Sullivan’s Travels,” with Joel McCrae, Veronica Lake and Preston Sturges directed.

Favorite food? French onion soup.

Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family? Oliver Sacks — curious, passionate, smart and humane.

Most respected elected official? Helen Gahagan Douglas, one of the first women elected to Congress from California.

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