More time for books; Harper to retire from Groves Library

Published 8:02 pm Tuesday, May 29, 2018

GROVES — Deborah Harper describes herself as “kind of a bookworm,” though she doesn’t really have time to sit back and do much reading.

That statement alone seems strange since Harper is the director of the Groves Public Library. She will soon have some time on her hands for reading as she retires May 31.

Harper, an east Texas native, got involved with libraries when her oldest daughter was 11 and volunteering at the library in Kountze a few days a week. Harper and the library director connected, she said. Then one day every library employee there caught the flu except for the director, who called upon her to help.

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“One thing led to another. It was kind of luck of the draw,” Harper, who also worked in her high school library, said.

Harper started with Groves Library on May 2, 2005, then Rita hit that fall. She called it a learning experience, as she had never had to evacuate before.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the historic rainfall that flooded the area with Tropical Storm Harvey.

“Forty years in one place. I had never seen it before,” she said. “Some had water to their roofs. I was lucky with just 3 feet of water. It’s disheartening, to see neighbors and those whose homes I had driven by in the past as I floated by on a boat.”

Harper hopes to be back in her home by the end of the month and is thankful she had a place to stay in the meantime. She had parked her car in a good spot so it was saved but she lost a lot, including clothes.

So why retire now?

“I was thinking that when I turned 65 I would retire and oddly enough a lot of my compatriots, library equals, are also retired,” she said. “It’s like a changing of the guard. Hardin County, Sour Lake, Kountze, Lumberton, Kirbyville — we’re all getting older and it’s that time.”

She doesn’t have a set plan of what she will do once retired.

“I’ll go home and try to get back on my feet,” she said of her house in Vidor. “I’m a chicken person; I will get more.”

Besides raising chickens Harper also likes to work on genealogy and hopes to get back to it.

“And I like to read but when you’re working a full time job it’s hard to find time to read,” she said. “I’ve never been the type of person to lay in bed and read.”

The workaholic Harper will miss her job though. As a manager she doesn’t have as much interaction with the public as before but does know what readers want.

“I like the management side. I buy books and know the community,” she said. “I have to figure out what the community likes to read. (For example) There are a lot of retired folks; are they going to like Christian fiction or are they going to like non-fiction books. That, I will miss.”

Harper had only kind words to say for friend and fellow librarian Louelle “Lou” Doucet. Doucet will take over the role of interim library director June 1.

“It’s been an experience. I have worked side by side with her and she has such a personality, one of a kind personality,” she said. “She started out as a VOE (vocational education) student at 17 years old. She knows this library inside and out.”

Harper said she will miss the camaraderie with all of the staff, adding that she has tried to show them she is there for them, is their equal and they are all a team.

Libraries, she said, should not stagnate.

“If we do not change with the times we won’t be useful,” she said. “You can’t have the same books on the shelves as 30 years ago. People are attuned to the current.

“You can’t be a museum of books. People make it (library) interesting and they come from all walks of life.”

Today’s libraries are busy — there is wifi for the internet, scanners and fax machines and computers and televisions. There are programs for children and adults and even a meeting room that stays busy. Groves Library sees about 3,000 to 3,200 patrons a month.

Groves City Manager D. Sosa said this is a busy time of the year with budget time around the corner, storm cleanup and a recall of a council member going on so finding and hiring a new library director will likely wait until summer.

As for Doucet, she already misses her colleague.

“The library will miss her extremely bad,” Doucet said before becoming quiet for a few seconds. “She has been a mentor and taught me so much about the library. She’s a very intuitive person, it comes naturally for her.”