I will never forget the day I met Jean Huber, who, for nearly 13 years worked at the Athens Public Library, and has just retired. I was getting my affairs in order in preparation for going to Iraq. While I was quite convinced that I would return in one piece, I nevertheless did a lot of “just-in-case communicating,” and since all of my belongings were in storage, I depended on the library for my chance to do so via email. It was May of ’04, and our country as a whole still understood that jihad was real and unrelenting. Most folks, while concerned for my safety, were nonetheless supportive of my decision to go, with a couple of notable exceptions.
It was in the library that I opened first one, then another email message that were flame-o-grams from some family members who were both violently opposed to the war, and vehement about what they thought of me going over to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was stunned at their words, and tears began to silently slip down my cheeks. Miss Jean saw my distress from where she was sitting at her desk, and came over to see if she could be of help. She read the emails, gasped, shook her head, and hugged me.
That was the beginning of a friendship that has a special place in my heart. Miss Jean said she would pray for me, and she did. We could actually feel the power of prayer over in the Great Sandbox, and prayer is indeed part of the “legacy of a librarian.” Miss Jean prays for soldiers, our country, for kids, grandkids, anyone and anything that God puts on her heart.
She never set out to be a librarian, but there is no doubt it has been a major part of her calling. She fell in love with libraries when she was a kid and had to do research for a debate on capital punishment. Her mom took her to the Oakridge, TN public library, showed her how to use the card catalogue and do research, and, in Miss Jean’s words, “cut me loose, and I loved it.” She lost the debate, but got an A on the assignment, and the rest is history.
She has been married to her husband Frank since 1972, and they moved here in 1974, after the famous tornadoes of that year. They are the third generation of Hubers to farm here in Limestone County. She and Frank have two kids and two grandkids. When her kids were young and payday would come, she would take them to the library as part of their grocery shopping trek. She always found room in the grocery budget to buy them each a Golden Book.
As a result of Jean’s love of libraries and learning, her daughter Darcy has a large personal library, and thinks of her books as “her friends.” That is another part of the “librarian’s legacy,” although Miss Jean didn’t get the “label” of librarian until 2000.
What was her favorite thing about being a librarian? “Seeing the lights go on, the look on the face of a kid I helped find just the right book for their school project,” she told me. What was the least? “Watching a mom come in and do a child’s work for them—it doesn’t help the child.”
Miss Jean loved the library patrons, and says she “is really going to miss them.” One young lady from Honduras referred to her as her “Alabama mother.” She is now married and has children of her own, and Jean still hears from her every now and then.
And what can a librarian do to change the world? Well, in my case, she was there for me when I desperately needed it, and in my life, the legacy of the librarian is love. Thank you, Miss Jean! We shall miss you right back.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner