To some, public librarians are faceless bureaucrats who know what books are overdue and the location of the nonfiction aisle.
For three years, Jennifer Haire quietly dispelled that image as library manager of Baltimore County's North Point branch in Dundalk. The New York native made herself a respected fixture in a blue-collar community protective of its image.
Haire pushed use of the Internet, found innovative methods to promote reading by children and dived into community functions with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader.
Officials have given her new responsibilities as manager at the Towson library, where the annual budget is double the North Point branch's, and she will serve public officials in the county seat. She takes over Jan. 11 and replaces Corky Ives, who retired after 32 years.
Some colleagues say Towson carries more prestige, but Haire acknowledges her heart remains, at least temporarily, in Dundalk.
"I'm extremely torn about leaving Dundalk," said Haire, who will be replaced by Pamela Brown, manager at the county's Randallstown branch. "It's been a joy."
For Mildred Schwartzman, a Dundalk resident for 32 years, Haire's performance "wasn't just a job. She really cared. She planned activities for children. She stimulated them through fun."
Haire took over the 119,000-book North Point branch in April 1995 after serving in many of the county's 16 branches for 20 years and earning a master's degree in library science.
It was a homecoming: She taught English for two years at Dundalk High School.
She knew of the less than favorable way some people view Dundalk.
"The community is somewhat isolated, at one end of the Beltway, and not in the heart of Baltimore County," she said.
The negative view is generated for the most part by ignorance, she said.
"I've been humbled by their spirit of volunteerism and generosity," said Haire, who marched in Dundalk's annual Heritage Parade with the county Bookmobile. "I am always impressed by the way they use their time and energy to work for the community. It's contagious."
During her tenure, Haire started "Preschool Night at the Library," which introduced young children and their parents to the library together.
After a successful model program started in Baltimore City, Haire helped usher in a program where county pediatricians write children "prescriptions" to read. If the children take the "prescription" to the library with a parent, they receive their book -- and a prize.
Haire also forged a partnership with Microsoft Corp., which donated six new computers to the library.
"She landed in a place [where] a lot of people are wary of computers, and she reached out and encouraged people and neighborhoods to access information a new way," said Nancy Novak, president of the Greater Dundalk Community Council.
Haire made the library more accessible for meetings, Novak said.
During her nearly-four-year tenure, Haire grew to recognize Dundalk's reading tastes and needs. The turnover rate shows new fiction and romance novels as well as books on resumes and computers are the most popular.
Born in Queens, N.Y., she moved with her family to Panama and returned to New York to work in Westchester County. She graduated from the University of Connecticut with majors in English and education.
"Each community has its own personality," said Haire. "And each one offers its own set of challenges, personality. A library should reflect that, and I feel happy and confident we did that while I served in Dundalk."
Pub Date: 1/04/99