By Erika Webb
Mary Gaspary was a little surprised when she graduated from Stetson in 1973 and her mother suggested she get a job. She laughs at the memory, now that she's at the end of her career.
With a liberal arts degree in American Studies, but no teaching credentials, her Volusia County options seemed limited.
"I vaguely thought I might like to work in a library so I started visiting some of the libraries," Ms. Gaspary said. "A librarian in DeLand told me to see Dr. Kantor in Daytona, at City Island. They had a two month temporary position available. I decided to take it and 39 years later I'm still at Volusia County Libraries."
The county's libraries have evolved over the years. They weren't always the state-of-the art hubs of activity and education they are today.
Ms. Gaspary recalled with amusement the conditions at the old City Island Library.
"It was 3,000 square feet. We had to stack the books on the floor because we ran out of shelves," she said. "It leaked when it rained and it had termites at one point," she said.
But it turned out she'd found her niche.
Researching soon became her passion, and she experienced a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when she was able to unearth information for patrons.
"It was the search, looking for information," Ms. Gaspary said. "I'm a reference librarian at heart and what got me was when you found something for someone, especially at the old City Island location -- it was a challenge. When you found something, the feeling was fantastic. I don't know if it was an adrenaline rush or what."
People's reactions never fail to surprise the veteran librarian.
"Patrons who appreciate us, that makes your day," Ms. Gaspary said. "Sometimes it's a very small thing that you do and you'll get the wow factor from them. Something that, to you, is very simple ... to them it's insurmountable. Then, sometimes you can do something very large for people and they'll say 'oh, thanks'."
In 1979, Ms. Gaspary went to Florida State University and earned her master's degree in library science. She became a Librarian II in 1980 and eventually rose to the level of Librarian IV.
But being a supervisor at the large City Island facility, built in 1979, took its toll and, in 1991, Ms. Gaspary asked to return to a level II classification. She transferred to Deltona to help build the library's reference collection.
"I reinvented myself and found my love of reference again," she said. "I will be forever grateful to those people."
Eventually Ms. Gaspary returned to the east side of the county to work closer to where she lives. Now a computer-audio/visual librarian at Ormond Beach Public Library, she travels less than a mile to work rather than 38 to Deltona.
"I've taught computer classes since I was in Deltona. I teach people how to use E-Readers, and I write instructions on how to use E-Readers," she said. "I've loved coming back here. It's just as nice a staff as the one in Deltona."
Ms. Gaspary signed up for the Florida Retirement System's Deferred Retirement Option Program. She had five years to get used to the idea of retiring.
"I think I'm ready," she said. "It's been a good number of years."
At the May 2 Volusia County Council meeting, Ms. Gaspary was recognized for her years of service.
Volusia County Library Director Lucinda Colee told members of the council that the library system's longest tenured employee is known for outstanding customer service.
"Reference librarians like Mary were the first search engines," Ms. Colee said.
She praised Ms. Gaspary for staying current with new technology.
"Her classes to this day, I'm sure, are filled to capacity," she added.
For her part, Ms. Gaspary jokingly told the council that she couldn't deal with the new phone system, and transferring calls to five-digit extensions, at this point.
"So it's time for me to go," she said, laughing.
Before she could fathom leaving the job she's loved for nearly 40 years, she had to find a new passion. It turned out to be ballroom dancing.
Absolutely Ballroom, on Nova Road in Ormond Beach, belongs to Ms. Gaspary's friend. She's been volunteering there since before it opened, but not as an instructor. The very suggestion brought peals of laughter from her.
"I'll go from my volunteer position to working at the studio. I started by researching how to start a dance studio. I've sewn curtains for the studio," she said. "When I started the DROP program I was pretty scared. I was devoted to my job. When I found ballroom dancing I found another outlet. Now I've got that outlet and I'm good to go."
She describes herself as a late, and not necessarily avid, reader. Ms. Gaspary said she enjoys science fiction.
"But if you were to ask me about current bestsellers, I couldn't tell you," she said.
After nearly four decades, it's still about the facts for her.
"One of my bosses, years ago said, 'You are definitely a reference librarian," Ms. Gaspary said laughing.
Of the myriad requests she received over the years, one stands out.
"One man asked me if I could prove they used to carry planes on submarines," Ms. Gaspary said. "We didn't have the Internet at the time, so you had to go into the history books and pray you had the right book. I had to go in and look up all these books on submarines to find it."
Find it she did, and it turned out that at one time planes were carried on submarines, she said.
Asked what she'll do with her first days of freedom, she didn't access a lengthy itinerary.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. It will be my first Saturday off in a while," Ms. Gaspary said. "I might go to a garage sale."