By Paul Tennant
HAVERHILL — Sara Jaffarian has enjoyed a lifelong passion for libraries.
When she was a student at the city's old Hannah Duston School, the public library would send books to the city's schools, and Jaffarian was in charge of distributing books to her classmates.
Today, after having retired from her career as a director of libraries that took her from Haverhill to Greensboro, N.C., Seattle and finally Lexington, Jaffarian at 93 still actively promotes books and reading.
"I can't stop," she said with a smile.
She recently gave "a substantial sum" to the public library to pay for a special area for senior citizens near the Friends' Shop. She refused to disclose the amount, but so far, her gift has funded dozens of magazines — there are two of each so they can be borrowed — and a computer that is reserved for people who are older than 50 or have disabilities.
Her gift also will finance computer lessons for older people and new furniture for the senior citizens area, called the Jaffarian Family Memorial Family Room, according to Susan Katzenstein, assistant director of the library.
This is only Jaffarian's most recent gift to a library. Two years ago, she was photographed with first lady Barbara Bush, who also is a librarian, in New Orleans. She was recognized for making a large donation to the American Library Association, in which she has been active for many years.
Again, Jaffarian politely refused to say how much she gave. The association used her gift to establish the Sara Jaffarian School Library Program Award for Exemplary Humanities Programming. It pays $4,000 each year to an elementary or middle school library that has conducted an "exemplary" humanities program.
Jaffarian graduated from Bates College with a teaching degree in 1937. Later, she earned two master's degrees — in education from Boston University and library science from Simmons College.
The then-director of the Haverhill Public Library, Donald Campbell, offered her a job right out of college.
"I worked in every department," she said. After five years, she took a teaching job in Center Ossipee, N.H. Besides teaching, however, she developed a school library. Initially, the books were kept in orange crates.
She moved on to Quincy Point Junior High School, where she again developed a library. Then she went to Greensboro, where she was the director of libraries for a district with 15 schools.
"I enjoyed it," Jaffarian said. "We had the finest superintendent. He was library-minded."
After seven years, she received a telegram from Seattle, offering her a job that involved running libraries for 90 schools.
"I've always been offered jobs," Jaffarian said. And in her various positions, "I designed the libraries."
Another telegram invited her to take the post of coordinator of instructional materials in Lexington. She held that job from 1961 until retiring in 1979.
"I designed the libraries and planned the program," she said.
Jaffarian's achievements have not gone unnoticed. She has been listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Library Service, Who's Who in American Educators, Dictionary of International Biographies and World's Who's Who of Women.
The Jaffarian name is well known in Haverhill. Her parents, Mugerdich and Quhar Jaffarian, came to the United States from Armenia more than a century ago. Her mother was a teacher in Armenia and talked about riding to school on a donkey.
Her father ran a grocery store on Essex Street at the edge of downtown Haverhill for many years.
"We were brought up not to be dependent on others," she said. She described her family as being "very active. We just did things."
Sara Jaffarian is the last survivor of 10 children. She resided for many years with her sister Viola, who died in 1991. Her brother Fred Jaffarian founded Jaffarian Volvo Toyota, which today is run by her grandnephews, Gary and Mark Jaffarian.
"I owe it to my family," she said of her decision to create the endowment that made the Jaffarian Family Memorial Family Room possible at the public library.
"We are so grateful to Sara Jaffarian for her generous gift, which will provide a community space for seniors," said Mary Johnson-Lally, acting director of the Haverhill Public Library. Jaffarian's generosity will "enable us to help seniors cross the digital divide," she said.