This is a bittersweet moment. It is time to write my final column as head librarian. Wednesday will be my last day as I am retiring.
Saying goodbye is hard to do. As I reflect, I want to use this space to focus on some memories and accomplishments and to extend to my readers and our patrons my heartfelt appreciation for being able to share my time and efforts to build community here.
I have learned much by being a part of this community. Working at the library has provided me a platform to use my talent and share my passion for reading. This passion was installed in me as a young boy. I recall taking a bus with my mother and grandmother and going to the South Norfolk Public Library in Chesapeake, Virginia, to check out books and participating in their Summer Reading Program.
Libraries have always fascinated me. When I travel, I enjoy visiting public libraries. I have seen many libraries in North Carolina. The variety of services and diversity of communities in both rural and urban settings amaze me. I frequently say the purpose of our library is to offer accurate information and exceptional customer service. If we don’t do those things and do them well, we don’t have a reason to exist.
The public we serve determines how well we reach these goals and fulfill our missions. I remind myself our library mission is “to be an integral part of our diverse community by encouraging reading, lifelong learning and community engagement and by providing opportunities to connect, learn and grow.” I hope over the years we have connected, learned and grown together.
What do I think are some of the accomplishments in the recent past? To mention a few:
• We have added three digital collections with NC LIVE, NC KIDS Digital & OverDrive
• We have 13 public access computers equipped with a print management system to serve our patrons
• We have Wi-Fi service inside and near the facility along with Wi-Fi printing
• We have a significant large print collection
• We offer an annual Summer Learning Program for children
• Prior to the pandemic, the library conducted a weekly in-person Preschool Storytime program. Presently, we record a program for posting on Facebook weekly through the City’s Parks & Recreation Facebook page
• We have a Teen Book Club in association with Roanoke Rapids High School that meets weekly at school while the school is in session and monthly at the public library prior to the pandemic. This program received acknowledgment from the North Carolina Public Library Directors Association as a program worthy of duplication
• We began a Roanoke Valley Collection with books either written by local authors or touching on subjects of interest to our patrons
• We have helped citizens receive jobs both at the library and with two past job fairs
During my years of service, I have had the privilege to work with a number of community-minded, library-supporting, engaged citizens who have served on the City’s Library Advisory Committee. This group reviews library services, programs, policies and plans and gives advice how to best serve our citizens. In my 13 years as head librarian, I have worked with two chairpersons. Tim Warren served in that capacity my first year. For the last 12 years, Dr. Jim Ketoff has led this committee. His advocacy and passion are contagious and beneficial to our library. With Vice Chair Brenda Stephenson who has served in this position for eight years, other current members include Sandra Duncan (Secretary), Krystal Cook-Elliott (Assistant Secretary), Brian Jones (Friends President), Marci Merritt, Janet Moore, Bill Mueller (Friends Treasurer and Past Friends President) and Alice Newsome (Past Board Secretary). Along with past members, these citizens have served voluntarily and tirelessly to make Roanoke Rapids Public Library a place of which our city may be proud. I count it a privilege to know and work with these fine people. I am delighted this committee will stay in a place for another year and assist with the transition of leadership to come. I am grateful our paths have crossed.
Moreover, I could not have enjoyed my work here without the library staff both past and present. Library work can be very satisfying, but also can be demanding since we work with the public and engage to be helpful to meet informational needs for all who come through our doors. My staff over the years have been supportive, quick to share ideas and willing to sacrifice for the good of each other and the citizens. I am sorely going to miss seeing the current staff on a daily basis. I greatly appreciate your hard work, can-do attitudes and willingness to learn. You are the best!
In addition, I am thankful to have worked with the City of Roanoke Rapids. Chris Wicker and John Simeon have been fabulous supervisors and I have learned much from them, but, they are both also friends. It has been a privilege to work and serve with them and all in the Parks and Recreation Department. Likewise, I have appreciated the opportunity to work with City Manager Joe Scherer, who is also retiring at the end of the month. His sense of humor and commitment to professionalism will be missed by city staff and the citizens of Roanoke Rapids. At one time or another, I have interacted with all of the city’s department heads. They are a great team who seeks to serve efficiently and effectively. Similarly, our mayor and city council represent the city admirably and I am grateful to have met each one. I will truly miss my association with the City of Roanoke Rapids.
Finally, to you, my readers and patrons, Roanoke Rapids has been a wonderful place to live and work. I am glad to have been a part of this community. I see great things ahead for this city and area. Do not give up on yourselves and always look ahead. Change is not easy but essential for growth. This area and its people will always be in my heart. Good-bye for now, God bless and keep reading. Now and I trust always, Roanoke Rapids Public Library provides collections, connections and community all for you.
Jeff Watson is the head librarian for the Roanoke Rapids Public Library. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.