By Mrs Belinda Roberts | Posted: Thursday June 1, 2017
Our new Librarian Mrs Belinda Roberts introduces herself
30 years ago, I first encountered Geraldine High School as a student. In February of this year, I moved home to Peel Forest with my American husband after living in the USA and Northern Ireland for the last 17 years. I was equally surprised and delighted to find many familiar faces among the staff, including Bev Gregan who was about to retire as our school librarian after 34 years of service to the school.
North-east Florida was a fantastic home away from home for me. The area in which I lived echoed some of what I had left behind in rural New Zealand, but mostly piqued my curiosity with customs that were new to me. The never-failing warmth and generosity of the American people who accepted me as kin, is something I cherish and consider a privilege.
Early on, I worked as the youth services librarian serving five public libraries in a rural county. I created literacy programmes for young people: infants through young adults. The libraries in which I worked were really happening, exciting places to be, especially during the massive school summer holiday library programme. My challenge was to attract as many kids as possible to the library and create experiences that they would never forget. I worked closely with parents, caregivers, teachers, actors, professional storytellers, and volunteers to develop programmes that promoted a love of reading, developed reading comprehension, and fostered literacy in the children’s homes.
More recently, I lived in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the USA, which was a hot bed of violence and protest during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. My husband remembers standing on a street corner watching and listening to the peaceful march of Martin Luther King and his followers who paraded down what is now King Street just before King was arrested. Pocketed in the south-western portion of the same county is Hastings, a one-traffic-light town that is famous for growing potatoes, cabbages, and cantaloupe (a type of melon); in fact, so firmly rooted in the soil are potatoes, the village of Spuds exists between Hastings and St. Augustine. The library where I worked had long been significant in the community; in fact it was the first indoor space in this community where, in the 1960’s, African American children were invited to join with white children. The library had a history of being delightfully unconventional, even accepting cabbages in lieu of money for library fines.
Fascinated by all that was novel about my new home, I immersed myself in regional literature, mostly of the Southern and Appalachian regions of the USA; including William Faulkner, James Still, Flannery O’Connor, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and hundreds of other writers who painted absorbing and illuminating pictures with words. While working, I completed an Honours Degree in Literature at the University of North Florida, where I participated in as many awesome multi-disciplinary activities as I could. University life was incredible and the busiest, most memorable time of my life. I went on to postgraduate study in Belfast, Northern Ireland at Queen’s University. By this time, I had specialized in Irish literature, particularly Irish poetry written in the English language. I was in my element at Queen’s, reading and critiquing literature that fascinated me. Belfast is a literary hub, so I met poets nearly every evening of the week, including Nobel Peace Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney, whose poetry I had studied at length. The University library where I worked part-time was spectacular: multiple stories of books that were densely shelved from floor to ceiling on shelves that rolled from left to right. The Special Collections department held ancient manuscripts, all of which were available to students like me upon request. I was in library heaven and blessed to be studying at a university richly endowed with the literary resources I needed to succeed in my research.
Returning to the Geraldine district and to be near to my family after a long absence is comforting and exciting. I want our high school students to be able to step into any library in the world and have the tools to locate the information that they need. Our school library is a welcoming space in which our children can feel inspired, at ease, and to which they can bring their unique gifts and personalities. I invite students, teachers, parents, and caregivers to visit our school library with questions, ideas, stories, and a passion for learning. Going forward, we will create new opportunities for parents and caregivers to consider the Geraldine High School library as a shared resource; a space catering both to students and families. Stay tuned.
Come to the library, see what is new, and come to me with your ideas and requests for making our library a more happening space. I can’t wait to see you.
Ka kite anō.