Gail Roberts stood at the Plumb Library circulation desk wearing a sparkly sash that read “Retired and Fabulous.” The occasion was, of course, her final farewell to a job she had held with distinction for the last 15 years as director of the Joseph H. Plumb Public Library in Rochester center.
During those uncertain and ofttimes turbulent months in 2021 when the worldwide news was heavy with COVID-19 concerns and restrictions on public gatherings, Roberts and her team found ways to keep the community’s library vital to its patrons. Given home study three out of every five school days, children’s recreational needs had become increasingly evident during the pandemic, and the library was of even greater importance.
It was also during these months that Roberts was able to reflect on her own life, goals achieved, dreams fulfilled and those waiting to be explored, prompting her announcement to the Select Board that she would be retiring at the end of the 2022 fiscal year.
That time has come.
On June 23, the library held an open house, inviting the public to come and say thank you and best wishes to a person who has meant so much to so many over her tenure. Patrons and well-wishers stopped by to admire the citation Roberts has received from the Select Board in acknowledgement for her years of service to the community and to be warmed by her gentle gratitude to a town that has meant so much to her and her family.
In 2021 when Roberts announced her intentions to retire, The Wanderer caught up with her at the circulation desk she was manning solo amidst pandemic-related staffing issues. At that time, Roberts shed some light on her long career and future plans.
“I graduated in 1972 from Old Rochester Regional School and studied library sciences at Drexel University. I was a children’s librarian for 17 years in Philadelphia, Brookline, Marion and New Bedford,” she recalled.
Of her long tenure in the children’s department, Roberts said with a broad smile, “I didn’t know you could be a children’s librarian.” In that role, Roberts would become a storyteller and develop after-school programming. She credits a cousin with suggesting to her that she pursue a career in library arts. Roberts rather casually agreed it might be worth exploring, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Roberts’ career has found her in big cities such as well as small towns. “When the position opened up here, it seemed right. … I always wanted to work in a small library,” she confessed. “I’ve been happy here.”
That sentiment, if not already evident to all who know Roberts, was on full display at the open house. When asked what she believes was one of her many accomplishments during her years at the library, Roberts was quick to respond the MOBY (My Own Backyard) project.
The project, funded in part by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and other grant sources, brought together the Tri-Town area library directors, area scientists, authors and environmental experts, whose knowledge of the natural world helped to inform the goals and materials that would be needed to make field exploration meaningful and fun for youngsters.
Actual backpacks were filled with research materials, tools and equipment for specific outdoor activities geared towards young children. Subjects such as pollinators, make your own bog, tree ecology and the ocean waters gave children the inspiration to better understand the natural world around them and how accessible it is – right in their own backyards.
Roberts said Marion, Rochester and Mattapoisett libraries collaborated with scientist and children’s author Michelle Cusolito for grant funding. The success of the program has helped to sustain, support and enrich children’s educational needs even during the most difficult of times, and it is still going strong.
Roberts is also very pleased that a basement-level space is nearing the end of renovations that will be used for programs and meetings. Giving credit where she believed it was due, Roberts said that Rochester Facilities Director Andrew Daniel and his team have done fine work preparing the space for use versus storage.
When asked in 2021 what her retirement plans might include, Roberts was clear she hadn’t yet settled on anything specific, taking a more measured approach of easing in slowly to free time, a bit of travel and that high stack of books she’s been wanting to read.
But if you know Roberts, you also know she is a very skilled craftswoman when it comes to knitting and crocheting. Now she will be concentrating more time on making a wedding shawl for her daughter’s upcoming nuptials in October. Sweet endings and new beginnings.
By Marilou Newell