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Profile: From mime to librarian, Joe Cochran won’t be placed in a box

Joe “The Librarian” Cochrane’s career path shifted abruptly when he was literally picked off the street to become a professional mime. A College of the Redwoods wildlife management student at the time, he happened to walk past the Blue Lake Odd Fellows Hall where Carlo Mazzone-Clementi was holding auditions for his school of mime and theater. Dismayed at what people showed him during auditions, Carlo loudly announced, “I can grab someone off the street to do a better job.”

So he went outside, stopped Joe Cochrane, and dragged him inside and up to the stage.

“I guess I did OK,” says Joe, who immediately earned a spot in Mazzone-Clement’s prestigious Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater. What he learned from the experience still comes in handy as a librarian, he tells us. “I use my physical theater skills every day. My job title is Petaluma Branch Manager, but since my job is to face the public and be a visible part of the community, I introduce myself as the Community Librarian to individuals and groups.”

Mime and Librarian are not the only slightly-out-of-the-ordinary vocations Joe has held. To pay for college, he worked as a field manager for a daffodil farm, a delivery driver for a commercial nursery, and a driver for Sierra Springs bottled water. Eventually earning his undergraduate degree in Urban/Bio Geography, Joe went on to earn an MA in Library and Information Science, starting his first library job in 1993.

Joe worked for 18 years with the North Bay Cooperative Library System, a program matching rural libraries with wealthier system resources throughout the six North Bay counties.

“Labelled ‘the fact man’ by others, I quickly became the Q&A center, answering hard science and automobile questions for the reference librarians,” Joe says. “Over time, computer networks expanded, and the need for the renamed North Net Library System diminished. My final job as Circuit Rider Librarian was phased out in 2012.”

Head-hunted by Napa County to be their reference coordinator, Joe admits, “I was really hired for my passion managing people, especially the older workers.”

Except for the commute to Napa, it was an ideal match. But Joe’s wife, kids, home, and volunteer work are all in Petaluma, so when the Petaluma Branch Manager retired in 2014, Joe stepped up.

“I arrived just as a number of new things began,” he recalls. “Connie Williams and Nathan Libecap from Petaluma City Schools worked with Petaluma librarians Kate Keaton and Diana Spalding to launch the LumaCon fandom festival for teens and tweens. Forming a teen advisory group, and working with local artists, comic book stores, volunteer groups, and local schools, we hoped that 500 people would attend. Imagine our surprise when almost 1500 people passed through during the day.”

That first LumaCon was held in an exhibition hall at the Fairgrounds. The next year, the event moved to the Petaluma Community Center, and last month, attendance was twice that number. Joe and other representatives of local libraries were on hand to give out information about all the things that a modern library can offer the community.

“I like to think of the Petaluma Branch Library as a continually growing tree,” Joe summarizes, “spreading in different directions, while its local roots stay stronger than ever.”

(Contact Gil Mansergh at gilmansergh@comcast.net)