By Casey Neill
Sandra Hamnett was just after some job interview practice when she applied to work at Yarra Junction Library 35 years ago.
“I hadn’t gone for a job interview for 20 years. I had young children,” she said.
“I wasn’t looking for work, I thought ‘it’s time I went for a job application and kept those type of skills up’.
“Unbelievably, I got the job.”
It was a part-time position on the mobile library.
She didn’t like driving the large vehicle, but missed life on the open road when the static Yarra Junction Library opened its doors.
“I found that difficult at first because I really liked the informality of the truck,” she said.
“I always describe myself as a flea in a bottle. I find it very hard to sit still.
“The mobile satisfied that part of my personality.”
But she soon settled and created a welcoming community space.
“We have so many people who walk in just to say ‘hi’ or to read the paper,” Sandra said.
“I think people just feel like it’s home to them, too.
“It it’s too hot outside it’s cool in here, if it’s too cold outside it’s warm in here.”
Library patron Rosemary Crowley said: “This place wouldn’t have been a proper community library without her.”
She’s part of the genealogy group and historical society and stopped by with a farewell gift for Sharon during her chat with the Mail.
“She’s always been willing to work with any organisation,” she said.
“It’s been a real community thing.”
Sandra said: “We don’t like to say no, there must be a way to make it work.”
“This is my community. I love the community and I like to think that I’m helping them out and serving them.
“I think we’ve really encouraged different groups to use the library.”
She said developments in technology during her career did have some impact on the space.
“We see less kids coming in after school with all their homework questions,” she said.
“We’d take them to a book and look up an answer with them.
“But I think in a lot of ways, technology has opened up the library as well.
“It’s given more access to digital books, films, tutorials – all that type of thing is now open to anyone with a library card.
“A lot of teens come in after school. But they don’t ask questions now, they’re here to socialise.
“It’s an environment where everybody feels safe and everybody feels welcome.”
She said the library helped community members to navigate the internet, too.
Youth services librarian Maria Mithen worked with Sandra for about 14 years.
“Probably the most important thing was her building of our team, bringing out the best in each person and using their talents to benefit the library,” she said.
“She always had our back.
“One of the loveliest things Sandra ever did for us was unexpected notes.
“She’d give us an amazing card detailing all the things she valued about us.”
Maria said the notes affirmed their worth.
“She was like a mother hen,” she said.
“The whole Yarra Junction Library felt like a family.”
Sandra said: “All the girls have great skills – they’re better at everything than I am.”
“But I’m good at looking after people, that’s my strength.”
Colleague Jane Toy said they’d watched Sandra agonise over the decision to retire for the past 12 months.
Sandra explained: “I felt like I was letting the team down.”
“I’ve been here 35 years, I’m getting close to 70 so it has to be a time some time that I do it.
“There was never going to be a good time.
“If I don’t go, they’re going to take me out in a box.
“I’ve always said this is my second family. It’s like walking away from my family.”
Sandra doesn’t expect her life will be much different in retirement, she’ll just move at a slower pace.
“I haven’t waited to retire to do anything,” she said.