Jane Rustin: Bibliophile ... forever
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 10, 2011 1:50 AM
The love of reading as a child and the ability to open up the world to children led Jane Rustin to become a librarian. At the end of this month, she will end that career as she retires as the director of Wayne County Public Library.
Saturdays were sacred to a particular little girl as she grew older, decades ago, on Long Island.
But even she had no idea that her mother's weekly gift -- a trip with her children to the neighboring town's public library -- would mark the beginning of a tale that, more than a half-century later, would continue to unfold.
So as Jane Rustin talked about her pending retirement from her post as the director of the Wayne County Public Library, she reached back to those memories she still covets -- the sense of accomplishment that came with finishing every book in the "Childhood of Famous Americans" series; the feeling of pride that filled a little girl who got permission to borrow from the adult collection after she worked her way through every children's title; the sense of community that lived and breathed inside the simple building that became a second home.
And she reflected on the sense of hope she will carry with her out the door -- a belief that there are thousands of little girls and boys whose eyes will one day light up, as hers did, the first time they flip through the pages of a piece of literature.
"We would go to the butcher store, but we would always, always go to the library. It was just huge," Ms. Rustin said. "But still, I never thought of translating it into a career."
After graduating from college with a degree in sociology, Ms. Rustin's mother gave her another gift.
She would pay, she told her daughter, for a post-graduate degree.
"She said, 'As a woman, I want you to be prepared for life,'" Ms. Rustin said.
But law school, for the newlywed, would be too time-consuming.
And continuing on the path toward becoming a social worker just didn't feel right.
"Then I looked in the back of my college bulletin," Ms. Rustin said. "Until then, I didn't know you could go to library school. ... I said, 'That sounds like a good life.'"
Within a few years, she was a children's librarian on Long Island.
"I became fascinated with the idea of the public library and what it means to a community. It just really grabbed me," Ms. Rustin said.
And so did watching children react to their experiences there -- and being a part of it.
"We used to have buses arriving during the summer with all these kids," she said. "The joy in their faces and my ability to introduce them to literature, it was just fantastic."
Years later, she would take her first administrative job.
And after stints in New Hampshire and Maryland, Ms. Rustin landed in Goldsboro more than 12 years ago.
"I came here, and it was diverse," she said. "I thought, 'Man, this is really terrific.'"
And since she came to Wayne County, she has seen the library become a more and more significant piece of the community.
"We are truly the people's university. We're the place they can go," Ms. Rustin said. "The library is becoming a community center more and more because the other places are going."
Ms. Rustin could talk about moments inside the Wayne County Public Library that have touched her life, but chooses not to.
"There are just so many. I can't say that I can single out one," she said. "But I can tell you that it happens on a daily basis."
Like the time a man came in to thank a staff member for helping him with the resume that got him hired.
"Stories like that, they get you every time," Ms. Rustin said.
And so do ones about children who checked out -- or completed -- their first book on their own.
That, Ms. Rustin said, is the reason librarians show up to work every day.
"We certainly don't do it for the money," she quipped. "We do it because reading is so critical. It's so important. You can see it here -- in the children -- and there is something special about that."
And there is something special about addressing the need to promote literacy -- no matter how much programs designed to do so get cut.
"Wayne County has a literacy problem. If it didn't, it would be a more productive, happier place. The jails wouldn't be so full," Ms. Rustin said. "But, with that said, there was a program called "Every Child Ready to Read" and it was funded by SmartStart. What it is -- or was -- is an early literacy program, because not every family has reading as a value. Parents don't always read to their children. This program promoted that ... and it got cut.
"I mean, at the end of a career, it's so hard to see that happening. It's such a step backward. To cut that off ... is so short-sighted. So that's very difficult. I wish, in a way, I was leaving at a time when things were on the upswing."
Ms. Rustin knows she will never really leave the library.
Retirement, she said, might cost her an office and a title, but the institution that stole her heart as a little girl on Long Island will never leave her.
So even as she packs boxes and clears her personal effects from the place she has called a second home for more than a decade, she does so knowing that her relationship with the simple construct will soon be reborn.
And while her departure will likely be an emotional one, it will mark the beginning of an adventure, she said, back to her childhood.
And in many ways, she can't wait for that "little girl" to again take on the role of library patron.
"All these years of working, I have had very little time for reading. So retirement, I've told them ... that I'm going to be coming in here quite often," Ms. Rustin said. "I'm gonna read -- just read -- because I haven't been able to do that in years."