Margaret Smith knows libraries. In addition to 38 years of experience as a librarian, Smith holds the unique distinction of being the only Jacksonville Public Library employee who has worked at all three downtown libraries: the Jacksonville Free Public Library funded by Andrew Carnegie, the Haydon Burns Library and the current Main Library on Laura Street.
As a student at the University of Florida, Smith spent the summer of 1965 working in the business office of the Jacksonville Free Public Library. A bachelor’s degree and two masters’ degrees later, Smith began work as a librarian, holding nearly a dozen different positions throughout the system, some in administration, others in customer service. She counts herself lucky to have been employed during a period of growth that offered her new challenges and responsibilities. And she acknowledges that she was willing to take on any task, even if it meant wearing pajamas for bedtime story hours when she oversaw children’s programming.
“I never learned how to say no,” Smith said. “I pretty well did anything I was asked to do.”
So when Harry Reagan, then President of the Friends of the Jacksonville Public Library (FJPL), asked the recently retired Smith to bring her years of library know-how to FJPL, Smith wasn’t able to say no. That was in 2008. Today, Smith is still hard at work for the library, this time as a volunteer helping to raise money through book sales. She also serves as the treasurer for FJPL, keeping records and paying bills.
“I have a tendency to get involved in anything I join, especially when I’m having fun,” Smith said. She is also proud of the work and what they have been able to contribute to the library. The Friends group is now preparing for a three-day sale Feb. 19 – 21 at the University Park Branch Library location at 3435 University Blvd. N. Shoppers can snag a good read for $2 or less, the treasurer explained, or bag of books for $15. FJPL members get even better deals.
The book sale money is used to support library programs, something that hasn’t changed much during Smith’s career. The lack of sufficient funding has always been an issue for the library as an institution despite the high regard citizens have for their libraries, she said. “Since my first years as a librarian, the library as a whole has a larger profile in the community. It is also recognized as being more important to the city than it ever has been, yet funding remains an issue.”
The greatest change to the library system has been the shift from a labor-intensive paper-based tracking system to a computerized and integrated city-wide digital system, something Smith witnessed firsthand. As a result, clerical jobs have given way to more librarian positions, and the focus has changed to helping customers find the information they need.
“As a librarian, you don’t have to know everything, but you do need to know where to find it.”
Support the library at the Friends of the Jacksonville Public Library book sale, February 19, 20 and 21.