Retirement of local librarian marks end of one era for Assiginack public library

Debbie Robinson has announced that she will retire as the librarian at the Assiginack Public Library for the past 38 years, at the end of the month.

MANITOWANING—With Debbie Robinson getting set to retire as the librarian at the Assiginack Public Library, it marks the end of one era in the library’s long history.

“I know I will miss it, but it’s time, I have spent more than half of my life here,” Ms. Robinson told The Expositor. “I will miss it, it’s been a wonderful experience and I wouldn’t change anything.”

“I feel fortunate having been able to work in a job for 38 years that I liked and where I wanted to go to work every day,” Debbie said. “It’s been great,” she noted, having started in 1985.

“I’ve been here almost 38 years, and the ‘friends of the library’ group has been in existence for the past 34 years and we’ve been able to keep thousands of books out of the landfill and in people’s hands,” said Debbie. She explained the ‘friends of group’ encourages and advocates for people to use the library and they also, for instance, fundraise for needed items in the library. I could always go to them when something was needed. You don’t always want to go the municipal council all the time for funding and help and support.”

The ‘friends of’ group (of which Ms. Robinson has been a member) “has sponsored the annual Easter egg hunt for 33 years, they provided money to purchase the candy and prizes through book sales, and for example, have helped sponsor library reading contests, pizza parties and other events. The group has also made donations to the Assiginack Museum renovations and 4-H club.”

“I have been fortunate to have met some very interesting people over the years,” said Ms. Robinson. She explained libraries are known world-wide as places in a community where tourists and visitors know they can get information if they are looking for someone they know in the community. A library can provide education, information, recreational and cultural information to visitors to the community.”

“My job description didn’t have tech skills in it,” quipped Ms. Robinson. “The toughest thing I’ve had to deal with over the years is changes in computer technology, and changes that seem to occur every 20 seconds.”

With the “pandemic we have found that while people have always needed books, magazines and movies, this has especially been the case over the past two years,” said Ms. Robinson. “A lot of people don’t have computers or access to internet in their homes, so it has been important for us to be open during the pandemic to provide these things. And we did curbside pickups for 18 months,” she said, noting the library opened again for in-person patronage the first part of March.

“Debbie has been working as the librarian for 38 years,” said Jane Tilston, chair of the library board. “I don’t think we would have been able to make it without her all these years. She pointed out her mother, Vivian Tilston, who was a former librarian persuaded Ms. Robinson to apply for the job. “My mother thought she would be good in the job, and although Debbie had some doubts at first, she applied.”

“And she has done a remarkable job,” stated Ms. Tilston. “She has brought in wonderful reading materials for everyone to enjoy, from thousands of books, papers, magazines, CDs, videos and movies. She has introduced many new things in the library. And there have always been things and events to entertain the children, courses held in the building, and  a meeting space for groups in the community to use. She has gone to the local school with programs to encourage students to enjoy reading and much more.”

“I have friends from big cities like Toronto who visit this library and they say ‘we have been trying to get that book in our library for a long time, but we haven’t been able to’,” continued Ms. Tilston. “We were able to get all these materials because of Debbie’s diligence and efforts.”

Ms. Tilston pointed out Debbie has not only worked as a librarian in the community, but she is a very talented singer and has been in the church choir, sings at weddings, and is also a talented actress, having always had a major part in the local theatre.

“I think Debbie has really enjoyed working in the library and as the library board and patrons, we hate to see her go,” said Ms. Tilston. “She has always gone above and beyond. Deb has definitely earned retirement. She has been a terrific contributor to not only the library but for the whole township.” 

“We are located on what I call the brick block at the library location on Arthur Street,” said Ms. Robinson. “The library is on the brick side, and we have the liquor store, so libations; the medical centre provides the medical service; the library provides education information recreation and culture; the St. Paul’s Anglican Church across the street from us provides salvation; and Complete Auto provides transportation support. They have all been great neighbours as has Manitoulin Streams Improvement Association who are downstairs in this building and have been great neighbours. They put us, Manitoulin Island, on the map worldwide.”

When the Assiginack library celebrated its 75th birthday in 2014, “I found a lot of materials between the years 1965-1985 that had been stored. I brought it all here to the library site on Spragge Street and it took five weeks, but we got everything sorted out.” She pointed out in 1939, Rev. Dr. Marshall Laverty was a new minister leading his Manitowaning congregation at the Knox United Church. He realized the need Manitowaning had for a real library, not one run by volunteers from storefronts, and with the help of Kathleen Mastin, penned a letter to the federal government, noting the benefit the community would receive from having a library and requesting funding to start one. The government agreed and after a blessing from council, in April of 1939 Manitowaning’s first official library began. It wasn’t until 1959 that the library had its first paid librarian, as until that time they were all volunteers. 

During the war years, the Assiginack library had been hosted in a small corner of a drug store, then in the museum and then in a house behind the post office, said Ms. Robinson. 

“The best part of the job has been the people. And over the years, we have had exceptional library board members who have been dedicated to see the library grow, expand and make changes as were necessary. They have been awesome,” said Ms. Robinson.

“I am so grateful to the board to have put their trust in me to be the librarian,” said Ms. Robinson. “For a long time, I was the only one here, and it was awesome that people would volunteer to come in and work at the library on days that I couldn’t.”

“And all the summer students we have had have all been very good, some even became librarians,” continued Ms. Robinson. “Even if they live elsewhere, they have popped in when they were visiting and back on the Island, or would just keep in contact.”

“I’ve had a very understanding family over the years,” said Ms. Robinson. “There have been lots of times the door of the library has been closed and I have been in here working after hours. Its been a little difficult for them with me having worked just about every weekend over the years, at least on Saturdays. This made it tough on my husband Larry and our kids David, Dan and Devon.”

“I have appreciated the opportunity to serve the community,” stated Ms. Robinson.

Ms. Tilston noted that the library board will be hosting a come and go party on August 23, during the regular library hours for people to come in and say goodbye to Ms. Robinson who is officially retiring as of September 1.