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Articles

High Springs librarian Roberts retires after 40 years

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HIGH SPRINGS – The bare walls of Martha Roberts’ office reveal evidence of spaces where picture frames used to hang. Trinkets and gifts that once dotted the desk have been packed away and taken home. A room rich in memories cleared and left behind by the woman who affected so many lives.

After 40 years at the High Springs’ Library, head librarian Martha Roberts retired on Friday, April 27. In her honor, the City of High Springs dedicated the day to her, proclaiming it Martha Roberts’ Day.

“It’s been such a wonderful trip,” Roberts said.

Roberts started her journey in 1971 in a small, two-room building next to the Priest Theater.  With such small quarters, her office extended inside a closet. She worked 16-hour weeks as the only employee. Still, even with limited shelving, the library collection housed 300 books, said Phillis Filer, Roberts’ former supervisor.

The community dreamed of a real library, and it pulled together to make those hopes a reality. In 1976, Roberts said the town raised enough money between donations from Friends of the Library and the City of High Springs to start construction on property donated by Loncala Phosphate.

Roberts has fond memories of the move from the old space to the newly finished City of High Springs Library. Children from the town celebrated the day by forming a human chain and moving the books from one building to the next. By allowing the community to literally touch each book as the collection was moved, everyone felt like it was really their library, Filer said.

Ten years later, the City of High Springs gave the library property to the Library District. Roberts remembers this as one of the greatest and most challenging moments in her career.

Even though Roberts felt the library fought for its existence every year before merging with the Alachua County Library District, others in the community have different thoughts.

Filer said prior to that time, Roberts was the library.

“Sometimes I don’t think Martha really realizes the impact she’s had on the community and the library district as a whole,” Filer said.

Roberts believes the staff behind her made her years a success. If not for all the individuals and organizations in the community, she said the library would have never been a reality.

“I’ve just had a love of the people and a love of books,” she said.  “High Springs is my town.”

Roberts thought of the library as the “living room” of High Springs, where the people of her community could visit, hang out and explore the books offered. She said she’s always felt like High Springs was a big family, her family.

Even though Roberts never imagined herself as a babysitter, Filer said children in the community constantly flocked to the library to play games, participate in the summer reading program and involve themselves in other services available for youngsters. Many of the children learned important lessons from Roberts, Filer said, such as if he or she played with a game, it should returned to its designated spot.

The children Roberts read to during the library’s popular Story Hour years ago now have grandchildren coming to the library. She said they were really what inspired her to be a librarian. She used to work at High Springs Elementary for a reading program and part-time at the library, but the library always had her heart.

She knew she wanted to have an influence on the lives of children in her small town, helping them to have a safe place and to create fond memories of High Springs.

For Roberts, deciding to retire was the one of the hardest decisions she’s ever had to make. The library is updating to a new system, and she doesn’t want to learn everything over again.

“It’s a good time to bow out,” she said.

But she will still be around, visiting the library and participating in the same organizations. She will still be involved in the Garden Club, the Women’s Club, AARP, the High Springs Theater and her High Springs’ church, First Baptist.

“Martha put her whole heart into this place,” Filer said, looking around at the pale purple walls that were home to the woman that turned the library into what it is today.