When Gregg Gronlund accepted his position with the Orange County Library System in 1991, there was no lightning-fast way to look up books and periodicals or conduct research. It was all done manually with the help of the card catalog — the wooden cabinet in the center of the building with dozens of drawers and thousands of files, one for each book, magazine and newspaper at the library branch.
Gronlund’s career has seen the expansion of the county’s library system, the addition of local branches and a main call center, and the technological advancements that allowed for the inclusion of computers and databases.
He has always said he would retire when he turned 65. His birthday and his retirement day both fall on Saturday, April 24.
Sarah Qronfleh, currently the assistant manager, will take over as branch manager. She has been at West Oaks for about 18 months and with OCLS for five years. Prior to that, she worked at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library.
Although Gronlund has been with Orange County for nearly 30 years, he has held probably 19 different jobs during that time, he said.
“I’ve moved around a lot,” he said. “I started at the Southwest branch in the Dr. Phillips area and then moved to the main library, and I worked in a variety of departments there for a couple of years before I became a manager.”
His first management position was with the Winter Garden branch when it was on Palmetto Street, the building that now houses the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department headquarters. A year later, he was back at the downtown Orlando branch, where he spent the next 15 years and ran the genealogy department.
This role introduced him to the vast world of genealogy and lured him into searching his own family tree. He has traced a Swedish grandfather’s ancestry back to the 1600s.
He served as president of the Central Florida Genealogy Society for five years and was on the board for 14.
“His expertise and love of family history research helped the rest of the staff embrace genealogy, and now we are all comfortable helping our users trace their family trees,” West Oaks branch librarian Shasta Quinn said.
In 2009, Gronlund moved to the management position at the West Oaks branch. Six years later, he and his staff were part of a massive project to help move the genealogy center from downtown to Ocoee.
That has been a good experience for the library and the community,” Gronlund said.
A full-time genealogist on staff offers classes and one-on-one service. During the pandemic, she continued her work via Zoom calls. The library edition of the Ancestry website, usually available only at the branches, can be accessed at home through June.
Prior to the pandemic, Gronlund’s Genealogy for Night Owls events kept the branch open late on certain Friday nights so people could research their family history after hours.
Several community grants from the city of Ocoee have allowed the West Oaks branch to provide extended services to patrons through the years.
“We’ve been able to purchase Snap Circuits, and that’s an electronic kit that allows kids to be able to build things with circuitry and batteries and learn about that STEM kind of science,” he said.
Children can learn how to build a doorbell with one of the kits.
Another grant enabled the branch to purchase sewing machines to offer sewing and fabric art classes, including crocheting, knitting, applique and embroidery.
“We offer those systemwide, but at West Oaks, people can come in and sit down at a sewing machine,” Gronlund said. “We have been able to do that on Zoom, too. We’re looking forward to when we can do that (in person) again.”
The pandemic forced a number of changes in the library system; Gronlund took it all in stride and made the changes necessary to keep the branch operating with as little disruption as possible.
“Over the past year, Gregg ensured that safety measures were in place so that staff and patrons could feel safe returning to the library following the Covid closure,” Quinn said. “More recently, he oversaw the redesign of the branch and we reopened in January with a beautiful new look and feel.”
The West Oaks branch currently is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday to pick up grab-and-go items, check materials in or out and use a computer for one hour. The library system is preparing for its summer reading program — to be offered completely online this year. Children can pick up goody bags in July and enter into a prize drawing in August.
There also are monthly take-home crafts for kids.
“It’s just a wonderful experience to serve the public,” Gronlund said. “They’re so appreciative and grateful for our services and our resources, and it’s wonderful to be able to help them with whatever they’re doing in their life.”
“Gregg believes in the library’s mission and feels lucky to work for OCLS, and that attitude is contagious,” Quinn said. “He wants library users to leave happy, and he’ll go out of his way to make that happen. … I feel very lucky to have worked for him for the past 10 years.”
In retirement, he plans to continue using the public library in his ancestral search.
“That’s one thing I’m planning to do in retirement — make a website, mostly for genealogy, so I can share all my research,” he said. “I’ll probably have a couple blogs on there.”