A LIBRARIAN who has encouraged a love of reading among generations of Donaghadee people will issue her last book tomorrow after 35 years in the local branch.
However, it won’t be long before Joanne Roberts returns to the Killaughey Road building, but she’ll be crossing the doorstep as a customer in future.
For though the Donaghadee branch librarian, who began her career straight out of school at 19, will be packing away her branch manager badge, she’ll be continuing her love of all things literature to continue with her regular reading and creative writing groups.
Born in Belfast, but raised for most of her life in Donaghadee, Joanne quips she’s still ‘a blow-in’, and attended school at Glenlola Collegiate School in Bangor.
For a long time she had her heart set on teaching but when she became ‘the Saturday girl’ in the music department at Belfast Central Library, issuing music to the still unknown Belfast classical pianist Barry Douglas, she realised she had another calling; she decided she could combine her love of children and encouraging knowledge, by becoming a librarian.
Clocking up two major life milestones within just two months – getting her first real job when Central hired her full time, and getting married to husband Stephen – Joanne spent 11 years at the Belfast seat of knowledge as junior library assistant.
When a post came up in her home town, the mother of two grown girls, Jenny and Kathy, brought her passion for her job back to Donaghadee where she became a senior library assistant, in 1999.
And many years later, Joanne became branch manager, expanding her attempts to help the youngest children forge a lifelong love of reading.
With the establishment of groups such as ‘Rhythm and Rhyme’ sessions for younger readers and reading and creative writing
groups for older members, she has much to look back on as she takes a step back.
During her three plus decades at Donaghadee library, Joanne has witnessed many developments, from technological advances, to changing trends in visitors.
She speaks fondly of all the people who came through its doors in her time, loving the ‘interaction’ with them, and said she will always cherish the memories of the generations she has seen coming through the library doors.
“I’ve had people coming in since they were young children, and now they are coming in with their own children,” she said.
“I was out for dinner and a young man came up to me and said ‘I remember you reading to us in my class at primary school’,” she said.
“And there he was, a big six foot two man, awaiting his A-level results to go study at Queen’s University.”
She said in recent years, she welcomed a great deal more foreign nationals to the local branch, who avail of its facilities to help them get a footing in life in their new home.
“They are coming to the library to help them get ready for things like applying for jobs, and many of them are coming in with their entire families, using the computers and the facilities, so we have seen that the demographic is completely changing.”
Commenting on the future of libraries, in the midst of regular news headlines warning of the demise of libraries’ importance, and the distraction, for young people especially, of social media, Joanne thinks locally, libraries have retained their place in the community with gusto.
And she is confident of a bright future.
“I think the future is strong for libraries. We have to move with the times and try to make ourselves more relevant and we’ve become more like social hubs,” she said, noting increased engagement from among the local community, schools and businesses.
“And if you start with the babies and work your way up, by the time they are grown then they really know what a library is for.”
She also pointed out the importance of the Donaghadee branch.
“There are big libraries in Newtownards and Bangor but there are none between this one and Portaferry,” she said, but observed that ‘without a budget’ due to the continued stalemate at Stormont ‘nobody can say they are not at risk’.
Looking forward in her newfound retirement, to the novelty of a morning without an alarm clock, Joanne said she’ll take a good six months or so off, before she considers volunteering.
Aside from walking her dog and reading and writing, she says she’ll be signing up to some local worthy cause to volunteer her time and indefatigable energy.
She’ll be joining Stephen, who is already retired and whom she paid tribute to as a ‘very good house husband’.
And she’ll greatly miss the community who have passed through the doors of her workplace all these years.
“I’ll miss the ones who come in every day. I’ll miss the interaction with people,” she said, quipping though that she’ll be back before she gets a chance to miss them too much.
And quoting an advertisement for a building society she recently noticed, Joanne said it summed up her 46 years in the Northern Ireland Library Service: “If you get a job you love, you never work a day in your life.”