A literary life …
Spend a few minutes with Joanne Austin at the Osterhout Free Library’s North Branch in the Parsons section of Wilkes-Barre and it’s easy to see why the community looks to her for literary guidance. We recently caught up with Austin as she prepared for a busy day at the library, which has been her second home since she began her career with the Osterhout in 1973. She discovered the library (or perhaps, it discovered her) while pursuing her degree in music education at (then) College Misericordia. In addition to her work at the library, Austin recently celebrated 40 years of service as the music director in a Methodist church in West Pittston, and she’s an active member of the National Council of Catholic Women. She’s also been helping to plan one of the library’s biggest fundraisers of the year, the Rooftop Party on top of the Intermodal Parking Facility in downtown Wilkes-Barre. Proceeds from this event will help sustain the library at 28 Oliver St., Wilkes-Barre. The event will be held Friday, Aug. 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. Meet the supervisor of the North Branch, Joanne Austin…
You’ve been working at the Osterhout since 1973. This must be fulfilling work.
It’s very rewarding. I’ve watched kids grow up and now they are professionals in their own right. At this point, I’m seeing second generations so I feel like I’ve been doing at least an OK job, because if those young people who came in when I first started are now coming in with their children, the library must mean something to them. And sometimes I’ll have three generations coming in at one time.
What do you think makes the connection so strong between this branch of the library and the community?
When we had that devastating fire in 2007 and we had to close the library, we had an outpouring of concern. The board of directors called for a town meeting to see how much support we would actually have if we went on to reopen the North Branch. A local church gave us the room and there were close to 130 people from this community who were there to say, “We want our library back.” From there on we’ve had our ad hoc committee, which has been working so hard raising funds for this building and our needs here, and we’re going to reach our goal at the Rooftop Party on Aug. 10.
How much are you hoping to raise from the Rooftop Party?
Well, I’m thinking we’re going to need about $10,000 to put us over the top, which would be such a huge accomplishment for this small committee who have really taken the lead with projects and fundraisers. In the Parsons section of the city, this is basically the only public building that exists.
This library is a tech-savvy place, too.
We’re fortunate to have WiFi access and internet access, which is huge. You don’t realize how many people still don’t have internet access in their homes. And I enjoy helping people who aren’t familiar (with using the internet). I have one woman who loves to order music online, so she comes to me. I helped her set up a gmail account so she could do that. And to her, this was just great. She was so thankful and I kept saying, “That’s why I’m here. That’s my job.”
You smile when you talk about your job.
I don’t really even feel like this is a job. Yes, it’s my job and I get paid to do it, but it’s one of those things where I feel like it’s a pleasure to come here. I have closer friends in this neighborhood and I know more people in this neighborhood than I know in my own neighborhood at home (laughs). It’s like a second family to me. And it’s fun taking people through all the changes we’ve experienced.
Let’s talk about that.
When I came here, it was card catalog and filing cards and we looked for books that way. You were never able to borrow books from anywhere else in the county except for the Osterhouts. So you only had those four buildings to pull from. Today I can say to people, “Well, it’s in Hazleton and I can have it here today or the day after.” And if I can’t get what they’re looking from someplace in the county, I can go anywhere in the state.
Do you think technology is hurting or helping the library?
I have never been as busy in my job as I have been in the past 10 years. It’s remarkable.
Why do you think that is?
There are those people who are diehards and they will never turn away from having that physical book in their hands. Never. And I’m one of those people. I really like looking at a book and saying, “Wow, look at how much of this book I’ve read already,” and kids are like that, too. And audio books have become huge here, and so have large print books for people whose eyesight is failing.
In addition to books, we can borrow DVDs here, too, right?
Oh yes. We have movies here and you get a week on those. Why would you even go to Redbox when you can go to the library and have a DVD for a week at no charge?
Do you get new releases?
Yes. Every couple of weeks I order the brand new releases on DVD and I always have them, and we have magazines, too. Our magazine collection circulates and you can have the newest magazines for two weeks.
It’s almost Rooftop Party time. For those who may not be familiar with this event, what can we expect?
It’s so much fun. Where else can you go for a happy hour that’s $15 (if you get your tickets in advance) and you have food, free drinks, free entertainment and there will be some businesses that come in and set up tables. You can peruse those tables and we’ll be selling instant bingos and there are chairs to sit on if you want to visit with friends and listen to the band. It’s really a lot of fun. The rooftop is so big that you don’t have to worry about being crowded out of anything and we have the Corvette Club coming, too. It’s a fun thing to do at the end of the work week from 5 to 8 p.m. We have a ball planning it and then seeing it all come to fruition at the end is just wonderful.
— julie imel
Tickets for Friday night’s Rooftop Party (open to those age 21 and older) are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Proceeds benefit the Osterhout Free Library’s North Branch. The event features food, beverages, entertainment by The Sperazza Band and more. Tickets are available at all Wilkes-Barre locations of the Osterhout Free Library. The party goes on rain or shine. If it rains, the festivities move to a lower level of the garage. For more information, call Chris Kelly at 823-0156, extension 218 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.