I started working at the library in November 1977. The new building had opened that spring and was still new enough to be having tours to show off its modern facilities. Having been a stay-at-home mom, I had no work experience to declare but had been volunteering in junior highs for several years. I listed the libraries I’d helped in but thought my tutoring work wouldn’t be of interest. During my interview I happened to mention having helped in the class for disabled students. Jean Buckman’s eyes lit up and she said she had just the position for me – as page in Handicapped Services. I knew of this section of the library as my mother had been getting Talking Books from them at the temporary Main at Ximeno and Atherton. She was always raving about Judy Fraser and Chris Burcham so I knew I was joining a friendly group. As it happened, Chris was on maternity leave and Carol Reese had taken the clerk’s position. Martha GaRey was the page and transferred to Rancho Los Cerritos just as soon as she had trained me. Mary Kay Pitts ran the Bookmobile from our office so the room was crowded and busy. We had several walk-ins every day, people exchanging their Talking-Books and stopping for a visit. Judy set the friendly tone, even serving herbal tea to our guests. She was also setting up the library at the new Senior Center on 4th Street, and I remember taking cartons of large print books over there.
Long Beach Senior Center
Things changed after Prop 13 passed the next year. The Bookmobile – and Mary Kay – were gone. Judy was low on the seniority pole and was let go. She spent a year subbing at CSULB. Kathy Proffit, who had been in the department before, came back. Then Carol finished library school and left our department – for Government Publications, I think. That left the clerk’s job vacant. I was the only applicant and spent my interview telling Peggy Holmes just exactly what we did. I loved being clerk, which combined three skills I enjoyed – clerical, book selection, and what I thought of as social work. Besides typing and filing I selected the Talking Books for dozens of individuals and large print books for about forty shut-ins. This meant getting to know all of our patrons, which was where the social work came in. Many of them lived alone and would call, supposedly to request books, but really to have someone to talk with. I heard about the lives they led before sickness and old age confined them to home, their jobs and families, travels and opinions. I became close to many of them and cried over their deaths. (One reader’s family retrieved her library card to include in her coffin.) Selecting books for all those readers, some of whom read a book a day, could be a challenge. Most would read only romances, or westerns, or non-fiction, and would not consider anything else. My mother, Vera Jackson, was invaluable to me in this. She read both large print and Talking Books until late in her eighties, and kept listening to books until she died, aged 94. I soon found that the best recommendation I could give was, “My mom really liked this one.”
Chris Burcham with Talking Books.
Kathy Proffit left in 1979 and Judy Fraser came back. She got a grant for Project Rise, which took books, talking-books, and the new VCRs to convalescent homes. This led to hiring four non-career women for one year. Two of them stayed with the library: Shirlee Johnson worked in Administration and Terry Brand hired on as a page. Terry retired as Page Supervisor and remained a good friend to many of the staff. Judy forged close ties with the Braille Institute, which supplied our Talking Books and the machines to play them on, and to the Vision Center at St. Mary’s Hospital. We visited both places and attended workshops at the Braille Institute each year.
Judy moved on to be librarian at Alamitos and we were without a librarian for many months. I got to know some very nice subs at that time but would have welcomed more day-to-day help. A man was hired, briefly, but had no rapport with our patrons and soon left. That was when Vivian Reed came. Each of the librarians was smart and friendly. Judy was dynamic and always planning something new. Kathy was sweet and a delight to work with. Vivian was soft-spoken but well-organized and efficient. I enjoyed knowing and working with each of them.
On the left is Stan Stevens, page in Handicapped Services, Kathy Proffit, Judi, Mr. Singleton, Carol Reese.
We also had several long-term volunteers in those years. Donna Blunt, Alice Sumner, Joan Brown and Joe Van Every did much of the routine jobs – checking the content of Talking Books, rewinding cassettes, filing p slips, which listed what patrons had borrowed. They were part of our family and became lifelong friends. A special patron was Mr. Singleton, who came to visit us on most days, sometimes bringing treats and discussing the news.
In the late ‘80s I also became a library volunteer. Ruth Stewart started Project Read for adult literacy. I enjoyed seven years with my learner, Willie. Not only did we work on his reading but also on math, history and life skills. I especially remember helping him learn to take care of his baby son.
Evelyn Matzat, Judi, Donnie Cross at Judi’s retirement party.
When Vivian left Donni Cross came. During her time there we had the Telephone Pioneers set up a workshop to repair Talking Book players. This was a wonderful group of retirees who put to use the skills learned while working for the phone company. It meant we no longer had to mail broken players back to the Braille Institute and sometimes run out of usable players. Donni retired in 1996 and Evelyn Matzat took over, another delightful librarian to add to the list of memorable women who filled that position. I retired in February 1997 after twenty happy and fulfilling years in what had by then become Homebound Readers Services.
Editor’s note – Judi later volunteered to help me with the Long Beach History Index. She added the obituaries I found, as well as typing in all the old entries from the paper card file on Long Beach history. She has also helped edit my books. A wonderful woman, who I can’t thank enough.