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Eva Raby transformed children’s lives
Jewish Public Library executive director steps down
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 22 septembre 2011

Photo: Leila Lemghalef

Eva Raby at the Jewish Public Library in Côte-des-Neiges

Eva Raby flourished in the workplace as much as she helped the workplace flourish. The ‘workplace’ would include the whole community and more. Every major footprint in her career path tells the story of success.It starts in Montreal where she was born and where she fell in love with libraries at the age of eight. She recalls hopping on the streetcar home with a bag full of books.

“My best friend was the librarian,” she says.

She spent her adult life in Côte-des-Neiges, but grew up in Outremont surrounded by books and rubbing elbows with Jewish writers who commonly gathered at her family’s house. Her parents escaped from Europe to Canada in 1940 with their two first children. A couple of years later, they named their new daughter Eva, signifying ‘new life.’

Her family’s love for Yiddish literature never got in her way of “wanting to be in a wider world.”

By her mid-20s she graduated with a B.A. in Joint Honours History and Political Science from McGill University, followed by a master’s in International Diplomatic History from the London School of Economics (where she possibly mingled with Mick Jagger), fatefully followed by a master’s in Library Science from Simmons College in Boston (as International Scholar of the year).

Longing for Montreal, she started out at McGill University. Over the next decade and a half, she worked there in the Commerce, Social Work, and Management libraries, and then at Vanier College as a reference librarian. At this point she saw an ad for a position at the Norman Berman Children’s Library.

“My only qualification was experience reading to my kids,” says Raby in retrospect. “They said okay, that’s enough.”

She became the first professional, full-time librarian there, and for 17 years she brought it to blossom and put it on the map. She takes great pride in the creation of the children’s library. When she first walked in she found herself in a part-time room in the basement.

“I was given the freedom and opportunity to create a dream library. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”

To solve that problem she sought support from many sources. Before long, she was initiated as president of the Quebec Library Association’s Youth Section, and later served as the association’s vice-president and president. Some of her many other activities included sitting on academic committees and conducting storytelling workshops for educators.

Helen Fotopulos, member of the executive committee of the City of Montreal, became familiar with Raby as “a persuasive voice of library activism and everything that goes with the spreading of knowledge and information.”

“Her steadfast devotion to the world of knowledge is inspiring,” Fotopulos said.

Raby can tell you that ‘Story Time’ is not something you do half-heartedly. In terms of public speaking, capturing an audience of children gave her all the confidence she could ask for.

“Children are unforgiving. If you can’t capture their attention, you’re toast. Once you can keep them captivated for half an hour, getting up and speaking in front of adults is a piece of cake.”

Presenting to children allowed her to revisit her own childhood interest in dramatic art, while working at the Jewish Public Library was a way of coming back to her own community.
“It was the job in which I could give expression to everything I was,” she said.

When the director retired he encouraged Raby to apply as the next CEO. The idea was unexpected and by now she was in her late 50s. She thanks her husband for saying “You can do it.” In 2000 Raby became executive director. As head of the Jewish Public Library, which is also a research institute and cultural and community centre, she faced a whole new learning curve, excelling once again. Under her leadership the library secured major grants and set up outstanding cultural programming.

In 2011, Raby received the Québec Library Association’s Anne Galler Award for outstanding library service. She retired in September but does not expect to slow down at the age of 68. She finds that she now needs a personal agenda to keep track of everything and looks forward to continuing to attend cultural events in the company of work-related friends. She also plans to participate in the Jewish Public Library’s 100th anniversary in 2014.

For now, Raby wants to go back to studying and reading history, spending more time with her grandchildren, and being in the kitchen. Former JPL colleague Penny Fransblow let it be known that “she is a fabulous cook and baker, and the staff here loves her carrot cake.”

Fransblow is one of many whose lives have been touched by “such a lady.”

“You never work for Eva, you work with Eva. She brings enthusiasm to everything and she has done true service to humanity, servicing families, and making readers out of many children.”

[ Leila Lemghalef ]

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