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July 22, 2011

It’s all about the Murchison Library

Head librarian discusses history, services and needs to better serve as time goes on

ATHENS — “If we didn’t have libraries, many people thirsty for knowledge would dehydrate.” Megan Jo Tetrick, 12, Daleville, Ind.

To discover the year of the first truly “public” library in America, one would have to go back to 1743, long before we declared our independence.  On March 10 of that year, “in the village of Darby, Province of Pennsylvania,” 29 townsmen initiated the very first free public library, the Darby Library Company. 

Now, 268 years down the pike, the Darby Free Library is recognized as the longest continually operating free public library in the USA.  The library began with 45 volumes which were shipped from London to Darby.  Today, Darby Free Library contains over 20,000 volumes. 

All but seven of those original volumes remain with the library.  From those historic beginnings, public libraries in the U.S. now number close to 17,000.   

Today, to enjoy many of the benefits a public library can offer, we have only to look to our own Henderson County Clint W. Murchison Memorial Library.

Our Library resides in the old Post Office building at 121 S. Prairieville St., an aged building that has served its purpose since 1973.   It continues today with the private support of the Friends of the Library and the Public Library Fund, Inc., and other civic groups and caring citizens who quietly offer their dollars or time, or both, to insure the Library’s operation. 

It is not eligible for State or Federal funds or grants.  Salaries, utilities and maintenance are paid by the County.

“We get “$7,000.08 annually from the City of Athens,” said Head Librarian Lorie Lee.    “This year, the Friends have raised just over $4,700.” 

The continued success of our Library rests solely with the community it serves.  Unfortunately, the library’s operating funds from the County were cut 15 percent last year.

Lee, who holds a Masters Degree in Library and Information Science, has officially served as Head Librarian for 1-1/2 years.  Erin Holyfield is Assistant Librarian. 

The hours of four  part-time employees, Bobbie Hall, the Children’s Librarian, Gay Hall, Cheryl Tanner and Nelda Campbell, add up to two full-time employees. 

Volunteers Hannah Owen and Hannah Hernandez help make the Children’s Reading programs a success.  They are a cohesive group.  Do they love books? 

“Yes!” Lorie said.   “I think it’s kind of a must if you want to work at a library.”

Some things you may not know about our Library:

• General Library information can be found on The Henderson County Website, www.co.henderson.tx.us/, where you can also link to the Internet Public Library (“IPL2,” hosted by Drexel University), the Athens Daily Review, Athens City information and more.

Lorie’s new site, http://hccwmml.pbworks.com lists the latest book purchases and Story Hour schedules.  The site allows for community comments.

• The Library purchases 1,000 to 1,500 books annually.  

“The top 10 best books” named by Publisher’s Weekly or the Library Journal are primary purchases.  Or you can make suggestions for new purchases,” Lorie said.   CD, and especially DVD purchases are smaller, due to cost.

• The most popular adult fiction authors are John Grisham, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, and Francine Rivers.

• You can check out as many fiction books as you feel you can read before the due date.

• The most popular non-fiction books are cookbooks!

• The most popular children’s’ authors are Jeff Kinney, Rick Riordan, Dan Shannon, Rosemary Wells and the Berenstains.

Follow your child to “Dewey’s Pond” to see “Reader’s Advisories” for children’s books.   If you are looking for children’s authors not carried at the library, and want to request a library purchase, the Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia lists “notable children’s literature authors and their most famous works.”  

• The library offers inter-library loans.  You will have to pay the return postage, but its’ still so much cheaper than buying the book! 

• The Library handled over 69,000 patron visits in 2010.

• The Library offers instruction on library usage and resources to students.  Some teachers bring their classes annually.  More are welcome.

This year, between 100 and 150 children participated in Robyn Wheeler’s June 7  “Creature Teacher” Special Reading Program.   On July 12, over 50 children participated in Ms. Maria Smith’s musical show. 

The Athens Fire Department will host the last summer program on July 26.   (A reminder:  You must accompany your child to the Special Reading Programs). 

The regular Tuesday Story Hour draws about 25 children to the library.  The Library can always use more volunteers for the Reading Programs, so if you love to read please contact Lorie or Bobbie. 

If there were a “wish-list” for the Library, the following would be among the items on that list:

• A new cataloging software system to replace the 13 year-old thoroughly out-of-date “Athena” system.   A new system will provide critical cataloging and reporting capabilities required of public libraries.

Lorie has researched systems for “over a year.”  If a purchase is approved, she said “the new system will be online.”  Although separate funding would be required to add “e-books,” the new system will have that capability.

•  “More space!” Lorie, said, with enthusiasm.  The library simply does not have the space necessary to improve the its services to the community, such as meeting rooms, research and study spaces, a separate computer area, or even space to add books. 

• Lorie said, “I really wish we had a Bookmobile still.... There was a Bookmobile, way back in the “70s or 80s. That was really nice, and I’d like to have something like that. But unfortunately, there’s no money.”

The anonymous donation received this year would cover the cost of a new cataloging software system.  But as generous as the gift was, it is a minnow in the bucket compared to the cost of what is needed most – a new Library.

That is the goal of The Public Library Fund, Inc.   Stewart Cochran, Chair of the County Library Board and a Public Library Fund, Inc. Director,  stated, “The current library has approximately 12,000 square feet. To serve our population would require around 20,000 square feet. Cost would be around $6 million. 

An “ideal location,” he said, would have small acreage and street frontage on three sides.

Another thought on the Darby Free Library:  In 2009, this historical national treasure was in crisis.  Library Director Susan Borders relayed that the library faced closure due to lack of operating funds. 

If it had not been for the unparalleled support of the citizens of the Borough of Darby, “the Darby Free Library would have closed that year.”  In 2010, acting on the overwhelming sentiment of the 10,000 citizens of the Darby Borough, the Borough Council “doubled our support,” Borders said.   

Our library does not hold the historical significance of the Darby Free Library, but it does hold our history, and it would be so good if it were still with us, a more magnificent, and usable vision of its former self, a testament of its worth to our community, long-after all of us are gone.

A PostScript:  The next book sale is scheduled for Aug. 25-27.  Before, or after, bring in your good condition books. Cook books are a favorite.  Also videos and audio books.  Puzzles are great!  Magazines no older than three years. 

Library staff will help unload your donations.  Then come to the sale and take home another treasure-trove!  

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