Written by Julie Klein Friday, 27 May 2011 00:00
(It is with much sadness that The Bryant Library reports the passing of Roberta Balfus. Roberta died on Monday, May 2. This is the interview conducted by Julie Klein that appeared in The Bryant Library’s May/June newsletter. All of us at Bryant Library will miss Roberta and this interview is a testament to all that she has done to not only make The Bryant Library the special place that it is, but also the Roslyn community.)
I met Roberta in 2006, when I was first elected to the Bryant Library Board of Trustees. She impressed me as a warm and welcoming member of the community. But she also imparted a refined cultural intelligence and commitment to the Roslyn community. As a devoted officer of Friends of Bryant Library, Roberta has displayed these qualities and much more, as she avidly works to raise awareness of the Friends and continuously endeavors to garner support for their activities and fundraisers. The Friends, our Library and the Roslyn community are fortunate to have Roberta on their team.
Before moving to Roslyn over 43 years ago, Roberta and her husband Larry, a retired anesthesiologist, shared some wonderful experiences. While Larry was in the service, they spent almost two years in Japan. Roberta seems grateful for the opportunity to live overseas as she says, “Being in Japan opened many doors for understanding art and aesthetics.”
The couple shares an interest in the arts, music and literature. Roberta says, “We love the opera, ballet and visiting museums.” She and her husband are particularly fond of contemporary art glass and glass sculpture, something they first noticed in galleries on Madison Avenue some time ago.
Roberta has enjoyed several careers. She was educated at Queens College through graduate school and first pursued a career in teaching. She taught science in grades K, 1 and 2 in Roslyn. During the 1970s, Roberta describes a time when part-time teachers started to lose their jobs due to lower enrollment and competition with tenured teachers.
At that point she started on a path that would lead her to a number of other careers, all interesting and creative in their own right. She began working for an organization in Nassau County to interview prisoners who couldn’t make bail, and were not arrested for violent crimes, to determine whether they could be released on their own recognizance. Later, she became active in the League of Women Voters in Roslyn. Roberta mentions, “That’s where I learned how to create newsletters.”
In 1979, Roberta was hired by the Bryant Library as a consultant to begin their newsletter. She worked for 18 years as a public relations person booking programs, preparing news releases and writing the newsletter. She is proud of her accomplishments in this capacity, adding, “I also started a ‘Meet the Staff’ column, which was very successful. An awful lot of people liked them. It’s always about the people, when it comes right down to it.”
In the early 1980s, Norma Perlman and Fay Leavy were two of the people who established the Friends of Bryant Library. Roberta handled their publicity as well and she joined their organization immediately. She describes the laudable goals of the Friends, “We are the fundraising and liaison entity between the Library and the community.” Among other things, the Friends use their budget to help defray the cost of children’s programs. Roberta adds, “When there’s a need that arises, for enhancement of library services, for particular landscaping, or for programs or other services that are not in the Library’s budget, but will add to that wonderful welcoming feeling you get at the Library, those are the kinds of things the Friends helps with.”
Roberta’s love of books inspired her to get involved with the Friends’ Bookstore, which was begun by another Friends’ member, Helen de Neergaard. Once Roberta took it over, she got the word out to the community and the book donations started flowing. She says, “We never took books that the Library discarded, instead, we accepted donations and received books in excellent condition and brand new books too.” The bookstore is open Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays as well as any day by appointment. Roberta’s pleasure in running the store is palpable, as she adds, “I have a great love for retailing, I particularly enjoy meeting people who love the store and see it as a meeting place.”
I asked Roberta what she is most proud of concerning Friends’ activities and fundraisers. She quickly mentions the William Cullen Bryant Lecture series, originally established by Norma Perlman and Fay Leavy, “Many members of the Friends Board continue to work on this event, bringing to the community true luminaries in American Arts and Science. The outstanding list of people who have presented at these Lectures include Nobel Prize winners and major figures in journalism and science. It is another Friends’ gift to the community.”
As times change and technology evolves, Roberta notes the continued importance and relevance of today’s reference librarian, “Patrons and users need help learning how to use the technology as it continues to change – librarians enhance this service.”
She also adds how lucky we are to have Cathy Mealing as Library Director, “Cathy once told me that before she went to sleep at night, while others were reading mysteries, she’d be reading computer manuals. We have remarkable leadership at the Bryant Library, Cathy is a real gift to Roslyn.”
As we closed the interview, I asked Roberta what the Library means to her. Here’s what she said, “For me, it’s been a very important part of my life, both as someone who enjoys receiving the services and for someone who helps produce them.”