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September 22, 2021

‘Mr. Robert’ retires after 24 years serving children

SALISBURY – Robert Jones says he got lucky 24 years ago when he applied for a job at Rowan Public Library.

He had a bachelor’s degree but had taken to working to live rather than living for his work. He helped with reading courses at a school when he first got out of college, worked at a school for kids with learning disabilities, on a farm and in restaurant jobs, but in 1997 he was looking for a change and a part time job at RPL caught his eye.

“If you would have asked me at 39 if I would have been a children’s librarian for 24 years, I would have said you have lost your mind,” Jones said.

Friday was his last day, capping more than two decades of bringing stories alive for kids by breaking the rules: being loud, singing, and swapping through an eclectic mix of hats during story time.

Some of Jones’ friends and family got together to surprise him on his last day. He had his back turned as the crowd silently shuffled into the children’s area  with balloons and he was taken aback when he turned around to all the familiar faces.

Wendy Alexander met Jones when working in restaurants in the 80s. They have been friends ever since. Alexander and another longtime friend decided they needed to commemorate Jones’ retirement. They got in touch with as many people as they could and implored them to keep the reception secret.

Alexander had no words to describe how important Jones is to her.

“He has probably saved my life multiple times,” Alexander said. “He has been very good to me and always supportive.”

Tamara Sheffield, a City Council member and another longtime friend of Jones, presented him with a proclamation from Mayor Karen Alexander declaring Friday Robert Jones Day.

Sheffield said she has known Jones for about 14 years. She said they met for dessert at a mutual friend’s house and were instant friends. She said his contribution is foundational to the city and Jones has had a generational impact.

“When you think about what is the foundation of a city, it’s our children,” Sheffield said.

Jones said some of the kids he read stories to are now adults and work all over. He said it is a great feeling to run into them.

He told the crowd he bombed his first story time, but a coworker laid out what really mattered for him.

“She looked at me and she said ‘Robert they’re three years old, they don’t know you can’t sing, don’t pay any attention to the parents and just have fun with the kids,'” Jones said.

Allison Dunkin first met Jones when she was in college and came to the library to check out books. She brought her son, Ben, to story time with Jones and she feels that relationship is vital.

“It’s a bond, and he just turns stories into magic,” Dunkin said. “That, to me, promotes such a love for learning. This place is just unique because he’s made it that way.”

Ben, who is 5, said Jones is funny, and he likes his hats.

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