It's almost like a riddle: Mary Wagner loved books and was always reading four or five at a time. Yet she owned hardly any books.
"She would always get them from libraries," said her daughter Lebohang Moore.
Wagner was a lifelong library advocate, working at libraries in the Twin Cities, teaching library and information science at St. Catherine University and developing library collections in the United States and abroad.
"Mary was a national presence in library education," said Joyce Yukawa, director of the master of library and information science program at St. Catherine, adding that Wagner was committed to promoting diversity and meeting information needs of underserved populations.
Wagner, of St. Paul, died July 7 of cancer. She was 76.
"For me, she exuded a sense of mysticism and magic, especially in the way she would tell stories," Lebohang said. Well into grade school, she said, her mother would tell her and her sister, Nora, bedtime stories she invented. "She would tell stories all the time about fairies and really believed in those kind of creatures and magical beings."
Wagner grew up in South Minneapolis. In summer, her father worked at Glacier National Park, where Wagner enjoyed hiking. She grew to love nature and knew the names of wildflowers and trees, as well as nature-related folklore involving fairies.
As a young woman, she was briefly a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, teaching high school and working at The Bridge. She "took temporary vows to see how it's going to work out for a few years; when those vows expired she withdrew and decided it wasn't for her," said her husband, Bill Moore.
"She was someone you always learned from," said Sister Therese Sherlock, Wagner's friend since she entered the convent. Wagner was "socially aware," she said, and "a very contemplative kind of person — a person who did a lot, but always contemplative."
After leaving the order, Wagner finished college. She worked in the libraries at St. Margaret's Academy and the Guthrie Theater
She earned a degree in library science at the University of Washington in Seattle and, later, a doctorate from the University of Minnesota.
She worked at the St. Paul Public Library and was recruited to teach at St. Kate's, Moore said. She helped obtain licensure for the university's library media specialist program, and full American Library Association accreditation for the university's library and information science program. In 2012, she won an award from the American Library Association for her success in earning the accreditation.
She helped secure federal funding for the Urban Library Program, which recruited people of color and immigrants to work in libraries in underserved communities, Moore said.
In the mid-1980s, she and Moore spent three years in Lesotho in southern Africa, where she taught English and started a high school library. A few years later, she received a Fulbright grant to spend about six more months at the National University of Lesotho library. Later, she received another Fulbright scholarship to teach library and information science at the University of Zambia.
She retired in 2013, but continued to teach the international librarianship course at St. Catherine.
"The difference between Mary and almost anyone else I know is that she got things done," said her longtime friend and colleague Colleen Coghlan.
She is survived by Bill, Lebohang and Nora Moore. Services have been held.