Long before Google there was Roxanna Deane, library director at Tye Preston Memorial Library (TPML).
Back in 1968, she shared a six-tiered, book-laden lazy susan with eight other librarians clustered around the Telephone Reference Division of the District of Columbia Public Library in Washington, D.C.
Some of her fondest memories from a storied 50-year career in information revolve around these halcyon, low-tech days of spinning the tray on a table to find answers to eternal questions like who was the first and only person to score 100 points in an NBA basketball game (answer: Wilt Chamberlain).
“I loved finding answers for people,” said Deane, whose staff and volunteers treated her to a book-shaped cake and celebration on Sept. 6 to honor her 50 years of service to public libraries. “People did call the library. As the calls came in, you spun the wheel, got the right book, cited the source and gave the answer.”
Although she eventually moved on to greater research glories, even earning a heartfelt thanks for her efforts from Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times-bestselling author and Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro (see page 1,048 of Master of the Senate), Deane good-humoredly recalls trying not to argue with sports fans of yore, who thanks to her nimble fingers, learned they’d unequivocally lost their sports bets.
A childhood love of reading
Her career choice spun around a childhood love of reading and being organized.
“We like to say librarians were the original Google,” said Deane, who earned a master’s degree in library science from Federal City College (now University of the District Columbia) before embarking on a 36-year career in the District of Columbia’s library system on Aug. 26, 1968.
She eventually left the system’s main library, moving over to the Martin Luther King Library. Her research there, as head of the Washingtonia Division, eventually resulted in five full pages of accolades on Google search, all from scholars whose meticulous research depended on her exacting answers to their queries.
Deane said libraries are always early adapters to computer technology. She soon figured out where the card catalog was headed after the phrase “worldwide web” began appearing everywhere, including appeared the once enormously popular Family Circle magazine.
She bought a house in Canyon Lake in 2003 and decided to semi-retire to TPML a year later and help with the capital campaign. Sister Radonna “Ronnie” Nagy was library director then, in the “old” building across from the post office in Sattler.
Nagy died of cancer in 2005 and Brenda Collins became director of TPML. In 2009, when construction was just about to begin, the library’s board of directors asked Deane to become the new director. She enthusiastically accepted.
“Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this exciting effort to build a new library, whose tagline is now ‘Where Books Are Only the Beginning?'”
A beautiful, spacious and meticulously planned facility
She said many visitors are surprised to find such a beautiful, spacious and meticulously planned facility sitting right by Canyon Lake on six acres of land donated by the locally prominent Casteel family.
“I think we function as a center of the community; serving as a gathering area and meeting the recreational and informational needs of the community,” she said.
The library hosts concerts, classes, and meetings and is home to a very authentic butterfly garden. Deane’s latest addition is a “bird cam” with a livestream feed on YouTube.
“I’ll say I wish we had … and then we find a volunteer and are off and running,” she said. “That’s a big part of why it works. There are a lot of retired people who are willing and able, and want to be so active and volunteer. In Washington D.C. we didn’t have so many volunteers because everyone is working.”
Meeting the needs of everyone
TPML’s staff of eight works hard to meet the needs of everyone in the community.
“TPML serves area residents of all income levels,” Deane said. “For those without access to cable or internet we offer DVDs and high-speed internet. This is useful for applying for jobs, doing homework, or keeping up with family.”
Many people stop by to eat their lunch on the scenic patio, visit the butterfly garden, or walk on the nature trail.
Deane will end her career sometime within the next two years after grandson Christopher Deane graduates from Texas State University in nearby San Marcos.
Her legacy can’t be ranked on a search engine, but the numbers do speak for themselves.
In fiscal year 2017-18, which ended June 30, almost 70,000 people walked through the library doors. Volunteers donated 12,504 hours of time, including “reader weeders” who show up to care for landscaping. Some 7,250 people used the library’s popular meeting room.
Deane, who also serves as president of League of Women Voters-Comal Area, said she’s pleased to have made a “small difference” in her years as a librarian.
“I truly don’t ever feel like I’ve ever had to go to a job,” she said. “I’ve been so fortunate. Not every day has been perfect over the last 50 years, but I feel like libraries make a difference and I was able to make a small difference.”