By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Northborough – Jean Langley joined the Northborough Free Library staff as children’s librarian in 1976, less than a year after the completion of an addition to the building. Thirty-nine years later, Langley recently retired as library director after contributing input to the building’s 2008 addition and renovation.
“I’ll miss seeing the staff and the patrons,” she said. “Some patrons I’ve known for decades.”
Fittingly, her childhood visits to a library were at a new building while growing up in Fitchburg.
“The Fitchburg Public Library had just built a new, separate building to the main library,” she explained. “It was architecturally very modern for the time. It was a pleasure to go there and browse.”
She developed an interest in pursuing a librarian career while in high school. Her English class was assigned to write about any topic dealing with literature.
“I was interested in children’s literature, so I researched that and most of the articles and books I found were written by librarians,” she said. “It was a big revelation to me then – that’s what I wanted to do.”
Langley earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a master’s degree in library science at San Jose State University (SJSU).
“The library school where I went had a very strong service orientation, so that’s the most valuable lesson I took with me,” she said. With a laugh, she added, “Also, the need to wear comfortable shoes. One of my professors told us that – and she’s right.”
Langley had work-study jobs in the libraries of both schools. After graduating from SJSU, she returned to Fitchburg and volunteered at its public library. Her first paying library job was in Northborough as children’s librarian.
“I could be tired or in a bad mood, but couldn’t stay that way when the kids came for story hour,” she remembered. “Kids are so full of joy because they’re young and excited about everything. It’s shocking to hear that some of them are now 40 years old with families of their own.”
In 1980, she became the assistant library director, a new position at the time. Much of her responsibilities were the same as a reference librarian. She also assisted then-Library Director Patricia Raible with programs. In 1982, Langley started as library director.
Throughout the 1900s, the need was identified for more library space, and the process began for the expansion and renovation. In August 2007, the library moved to a temporary site at 71 Lyman St.
“I found the site,” Langley noted. “I didn’t have a committee; I just drove around Northborough. I could envision how the space would work for a library. The first thing I felt when I got there was relief.”
In 2008, the 1975 addition was demolished, a 21,000-square-foot addition was constructed, and the original 1894 building was renovated.
When not at the temporary location, Langley visited the construction site with a hardhat she purchased at Home Depot.
“I would sit in on all of the construction meetings in the trailer,” she relayed. “To me, that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – seeing a building being built.”
It got even better for Langley when the expanded and renovated library finally opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in March 2009.
“It was exciting to see everybody happy and enjoying the building,” she recalled. “It was one of the best days of my life. It’s very satisfying to see the transition of the library over the decades.”
While Langley is looking forward to enjoying several pastimes in retirement, she’ll give priority to her favorite.
“I’d like to spend more time reading,” she said.