After a 32-year career with the Delta Community Library, Joyce McCombs is looking forward to some quiet reading time in retirement.
A lifelong lover of books, McCombs has been so busy running the library in Delta Junction that she felt a little guilty when reading for pleasure. Not any more.
Growing up in Washington, McCombs had a city life during the week and farm experiences on the weekends. Books always captivated her. “I recall the magic of learning to read in first grade,” she said. “All of a sudden it clicked. From then on, I was a book girl. It was like a door opened or a light clicked on.”
That first enlightening moment happened with a “Dick and Jane” reader. “I wish every kid could have that magic moment,” McCombs said.
She earned an English degree and then a master’s in library science at Western Washington University. It was in graduate school that she met her future husband Steve. They married right after Christmas in 1980 and moved to Sand Point, where Steve was a teacher. “Immediately I was the library person at the school,” McCombs said.
Three years later, Steve got a job with the Fort Greely School and the family moved to Delta Junction. McCombs was an at-home mom in 1987 when she saw a tiny ad for a part-time aide at the community library. “I needed haircut money so I applied,” McCombs said. “I begged them not to hold my education against me.”
She started out working a few hours a week and eventually became the library director, seeing the institution through many changes. “A library is more than just books.” McCombs said. “I tried to make sure the library was as many things to people as possible and everyone is welcome.
“The library is a safe place. It’s open late in the evening and provides Wi-Fi so can people can check email, do resumes and apply for jobs. People rely on us for so many things.”
In addition to a thriving children’s summer reading program, McCombs has steered the library to become a hub where authors, musicians and experts in their field can give presentations. “We are like a community living room,” McCombs said.
“I’m shameless about wanting cool things to happen at the library,” she said. “I am willing to do anything to get people into the library.”
Delta Junction City Administrator Mary Leith said McCombs has a big following and that people love her. “She’s always been there for them,” Leith said. “A lot of people are going to miss Miss Joyce.”
Linda Sloan, library board president, said McCombs will be hard to replace when she retires later this month. “There is a wide breadth of things she does to connect people to resources. “She has been amazing all these years, a positive active person in the community. I admire her broad outlook on what a community is and that she provides something for almost everyone. She is a true community leader in her quiet manner.”
For McCombs, the best of her job is what she calls bibliotherapy. “I love to find the right book for the right person and I love that moment when someone slams a book on the counter and says ‘How did you know I’d like this book?’ That’s rewarding.”
Another favorite thing is getting children excited about reading.
The job has not been without its challenges though, with funding at the top of the list. “I got tired of living under the implied threat that the library would be closed if I didn’t find money,” McCombs said. “I was aggressive in looking for grants and bargains.”
Another difficulty is people who demand censorship. McCombs’ strategy is to thank them for their input, which often startles them. Then she requests that the person fill out a form. “It can be a battle but we don’t censor. We don’t have opinions; we have procedures.”
McCombs is ready to let someone else head the library now, but she and Steve aren’t going anywhere. “I’ve worked 32 years and I’m tired,” she said. “Just to have a hot lunch every day will be thrilling.”
Plans include writing a children’s book and a collection of her “Carefree Gourmet” columns she wrote for the Delta Wind, gardening, visiting with friends and researching family ancestry. She and Steve will work on their house and occasionally go to a movie in Fairbanks. “I’m not going to take on any jobs or volunteer work for a year,” McCombs said. “I’m not going to attend any meetings.”
Nancy Tarnai has been writing about Interior Alaska lifestyles for the News-Miner since 1995. She too is a big fan of libraries and reading. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.