Juneau couple heads south - to Russia

Ann Symons will work as librarian for Moscow school

Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2005

Ann Symons, a former longtime school librarian in Juneau, has taken a post as librarian in the Anglo-American School in Moscow.

She and her husband, John Symons, a retired teacher, will leave for Russia early next month.

The 1,100-student school, which teaches in English and accepts students from foreign businesses and diplomatic missions, is directed by Drew Alexander, a former Juneau School District administrator.

Ron Gleason, who was once principal of Juneau-Douglas High School, leads the school's branch in St. Petersburg, where Symons also will mentor the librarian. Gleason's wife, Rosemarie, teaches there.

For Juneauites, the cold and dark of Russia's winter isn't a problem. In Symons' job interview, she was asked how she'd cope emotionally and physically in the winter.

"John's answer was, 'We're moving south,'" Ann Symons said.

Symons is past president of the American Library Association and was a member of two committees of the International Federation of Library Associations.

She has organized workshops in Georgia and Armenia on how to develop libraries, and has spoken in Department of State library presentations in Turkey, Brazil, Lithuania and Latvia.

"We've always wanted to live overseas, and the opportunity just never presented itself," Ann Symons said.

Symons has worked as a library consultant since 2000, but she missed school children.

"I really missed the kids. ... It's what I did all my life," she said.

John Symons, whose hobby is art, will pack sculpting and painting materials.

"I plan to just immerse myself in the culture and crafts of the local areas," he said. "I've been invited to Hungary to stomp grapes in October, and go to Turkey for a painting foray with friends."

Moscow is only two or three hours by plane from many places in Europe, so the Symonses expect to see something of the world.

They'll see something of the world at the school, too. Students hail from 62 countries, though most students are from North America and the United Kingdom.

Ann Symons said she isn't worried about intellectual freedom at the school, which was founded by the embassies of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, and still has ties to them.

A bigger problem will be simply finding English-language books for the library and transporting them to the school promptly. Finnish booksellers may be the answer, she said.

"It will be a challenge to get material to serve a very diverse community," Symons said. "For me, it will be a challenge to find books in English. I think it will be a challenge for me to go outside my comfort zone to find books in other countries."

The Symonses will live in an apartment in diplomatic housing, and they can use the American embassy's commissary and health facilities.

They'll have diplomatic immunity, which means they can be kicked out of Russia but not put in jail.

Ann Symons grew up in the San Francisco area, and John has taught there. They've visited many large cities, so the prospect of Moscow, population 12.5 million, doesn't daunt them.

Ann Symons holds a two-year contract.

They came to Juneau in the early 1970s expecting to stay for only two years, so who knows what the job will lead to?

"I would say we're very open to what happens," Ann Symons said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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