Metro-East Living

Director and board member put Granite City library on the map

Mary Jo Akeman, left, board vice president for Six Mile Regional Library District, recently was named Trustee of the Year by the Illinois Library Association. Tina Hubert, the district’s executive director, was named Librarian of the Year. They’re standing in the main room of their newly renovated downtown branch.
Mary Jo Akeman, left, board vice president for Six Mile Regional Library District, recently was named Trustee of the Year by the Illinois Library Association. Tina Hubert, the district’s executive director, was named Librarian of the Year. They’re standing in the main room of their newly renovated downtown branch. tvizer@bnd.com

Tina Hubert and Mary Jo Akeman are bookworm enablers and proud of it.

Tina, 55, has worked as a librarian all her adult life and led Six Mile Regional Library District in Granite City through one of its most important chapters — no pun intended.

Mary Jo, 75, has served on the district’s board for 40 years, helping to expand access for generations of local residents.

“I started coming to the library when I was about 7,” she said. “It was like that scene from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Everything is black and white until they open the door and then everything is in color.

It was the year the Titanic sank, the year Oreo cookies were invented and the year the Girl Scouts were founded.

Mary Jo Akeman on library’s 1912 opening

“(The library) opened the world to me, and I want everyone else to be able to have that same feeling.”

Tina and Mary Jo recently met at the main Delmar branch to reminisce and share their news: The Illinois Library Association has named them Librarian of the Year and Trustee of the Year. The colleagues and friends will be recognized at the organization’s annual conference Oct. 18 in Rosemont.

“This is the only time that (winners of both awards) have been from the same library at the same time,” said Tina, who lives in Pontoon Beach.

It’s been an exciting four years for Six Mile, which covers Granite City, Pontoon Beach, Mitchell and part of Madison.

In 2012, officials celebrated the centennial of Granite City Public Library, now part of the district. They commissioned an original play, built a parade float and hosted exhibits related to 1912.

“It was the year the Titanic sank, the year Oreo cookies were invented and the year the Girl Scouts were founded,” Mary Jo said.

It’s so close to my heart and such an honor to come here and be able to give back to the community that gave me so much.

Tina Hubert on Granite City library job

After that party ended, contents of the main branch were hauled to a closed school to make way for a $4.1 million renovation that updated the 1929 library building.

The project was an inconvenience but also a source of pride for Tina and Mary Jo.

Tina had successfully applied for a $2.1 million state grant, and 70 percent of district voters approved a $1.6 million bond issue. The latter is being repaid from an environmental trust created as part of a U.S. Steel settlement.

“It wasn’t just a renovation of the building,” said Assistant Library Director Juliette Douglas, 69, of north St. Louis. “It was a transformation. We were re-evaluating our mission — what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it.”

Tina grew up in Granite City and worked as a library shelver in youth services while studying elementary education at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Then she landed an Illinois State Library scholarship to earn a a master’s degree in library science at University of Illinois.

“A stipulation of the scholarship was that you had to work in a public library in Illinois for two years,” she said. “But I couldn’t find a job in (Southern Illinois) as a children’s librarian, and that’s what I wanted to be.”

Tina ended up spending 12 years at three libraries in the Chicago area before inching south to the Illinois State Library in Springfield.

Finally, she served 10 years as a consultant and later director of Lewis and Clark Library System in Edwardsville before the Six Mile job opened up in 2010.

Tina jumped at the chance to work in her beloved hometown.

“It’s so close to my heart and such an honor to come here and be able to give back to the community that gave me so much,” she said.

While Tina was moving around, Mary Jo was staying put.

The Granite City mother of two visited the library regularly, checking out novels and how-to books on a variety of subjects. The mayor appointed her to the board in 1976.

One milestone was opening a second branch in a shopping center and moving it to a church before building a permanent Johnson Road structure in 1988.

Another milestone was disbanding the city library board in 1990 to form an expanded Six Mile district.

“It was a little scary because we had to run for election,” Mary Jo said. “I didn’t consider myself a politician. I still don’t.”

Mary Jo is retired after 26 years with Granite City Building and Planning Commission. She volunteers with several organizations and paints for fun.

Tina nominated Mary Jo for Trustee of the Year, describing her as a stabilizing force but someone open to change.

“She has been so generous with her time and her energy, and she wants the library to be the best it can be,” Tina said. “But she’s not a ‘yes’ person. She brings up issues that the board needs to consider.”

Mary Jo has held every board position, some more than once, and now serves as vice president.

It was Juliette who nominated Tina for Librarian of the Year, bragging on her knowledge, experience, leadership and civic involvement but mostly her dedication.

“She really cares about the community and wants to make a difference,” Juliette said. “This is not just a place to check out books.”

What is Tina Hubert reading now?

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance

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