Historically Speaking: Flipping through the years with West Fargo Public Library's longest employee
Janice Bober is not only the longest-running employee of the West Fargo Public Library, she is also the quietest. Her career began the next working day after Labor Day in 1972, a year after the library opened its doors for the first time. She was one of two assistants to the first librarian, Frieda Hatten. The other assistant was Patricia Calloway until Miriam Arves replaced Calloway in 1975.
"I was probably scared to death," Bober said. "I was given the job of mending books. There was no instruction. Mrs. Hatten just said to experiment but to ask if I had any questions. That was fine, except she was hard of hearing so if I asked her anything I would have to holler. I didn't want to do that because we were in the library, so I pretty much figured it out by myself."
The West Fargo Public Library was first housed in a small store-front building at 404 Sheyenne St., but after only a few years its collection outgrew the space. A building was built a block east of what is now the L.E. Berger Elementary School (then a middle school) on Fourth Avenue, for a cost of $172,000, which was over budget by about $25,000. Original plans had to be cut back because of unforeseen costs, but the people of West Fargo donated money, supplies, and labor to furnish the 70' x 70' brick building. School children also helped with the move to the Fourth Avenue location.
"Kids would take an arm load of books onto the school bus and then they would bus them over to the new location to drop them off," Bober remembered, "and then they would bus them back for another load." The new library opened its doors in January of 1975. As the collection grew, ideas of what to lend out expanded as well.
"For a while we had art work, which I think we borrowed from Fargo. People would check out a painting or poster just like a book and would take them home and hang them on their wall. That didn't last very long," she remembered.
While the community was pivotal in the support and growth of the library, there were times when volunteers were hard to find.
"For a while there was only two of us working, Miriam and I, and we did everything, including washing windows, painting walls and cleaning bathrooms. Just about everything that needed to be done, we did it," she recalled.
Arves replaced Hatten as library director in 1976 and remained in that position until 2007 when she resigned and Sandra Hannahs became director. Bober graduated to a full-time employee as more part-time help was hired on, and has experienced the library's 1985 expansion, its merge with City Hall in 1995, and the move to its current location in 2005 at the Lodoen Center at 109 3rd St. E.
After 38 years with the library, this former West Fargo High School home coming queen does not plan to retire any time soon.
"I think I'd miss the paycheck," she quips as she mends a book cover. The most recent in what would amount to a celestial stack from a quiet and collected career.