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This talented JHS volunteer is an accomplished career librarian

Books and libraries have played a major role in JHS volunteer Theresa Barmer’s life. Eleven Jacksonville libraries existed when Theresa began working for the Jacksonville Public Library (JPL). By the end of her 30 year library career, there were 21 public libraries citywide, and she had been directly involved with opening seven regional branches—mega libraries.

Theresa Barmer on vacation at Campobello Island.

She was branch manager of Southeast and Webb Wesconnett and part of a team that installed the first automated system at the JPL. She worked with two more upgrades.

Never far from the library, Theresa met her husband Andy, a Jacksonville native born at Baptist Hospital, when they both worked at the Haydon Burns Library. Andy worked in the Florida collection, providing his expertise in Florida history. They courted at the library and in the surrounding downtown Jacksonville, marrying in 1983.

The accomplished professional has volunteered weekly at the JHS since 2013, cataloging books in the JHS automated system, Past-Perfect. Her goal is to insure the society’s books, manuscripts and limited editions are accessible to researchers. “It’s what keeps me coming in every Monday. It’s important that people know what’s in the JHS collection.”

“Theresa is a tremendous asset to the archives. Her talent and time make such an important difference in what we do now and in the future,” said JHS Executive Director Emily Lisska.

“The JHS collections are illuminating,” said Theresa. “I didn’t realize how diverse and cosmopolitan the city was until I began volunteering at the archives. I discovered the city’s large Jewish community, the early arrival of Middle Eastern families, and even the Chinese influence through the early downtown restaurants.”

When she began her career, library cards featured metal strips, overdue notices were hand typed and every morning the card catalogue was hand-filed.

She reflects on her decades as a librarian and said, early-on the big worry involved scraping gum from under tables, but later concerns turned to security issues. “Yet as much as the library has changed, it has remained a place of peace, culture and entertainment.”

As any good librarian, Theresa loves to read. She particularly enjoys science fiction and historical mysteries. A favorite author is Georgette Heyer, who writes Regency and Edwardian romance. She likes the historical accuracy. Mary Balogh is another favorite writer.

While Theresa clearly enjoys her time at the JHS Archives, now that she and Andy are both retired, they like traveling and do not miss a trip to the library in any size city they visit. They rarely miss a JHS Speaker Series presentation and are Jacksonville Symphony season ticket holders.

“Books and libraries have been my entire life—my refuge and my safe place. You know the rules.” After retirement, Theresa tried volunteering at a few other places, and she said, it just didn’t work. “I started at the Jacksonville Historical Society and it was a fit!”

Editor’s note: Theresa is one of the regular volunteers at the Jacksonville Historical Society. Volunteers range in age from 14 to 84. Contact us if you are interested in volunteer work at the Jacksonville Historical Society Archives or at the Merrill House, 665-0064.

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