Michelle Zenor

Clint W. Murchison Memorial Library Director Michelle Zenor talks on Thursday about the importance of libraries in the digital age and the products and services they offer.

Times are changing with the digital revolution, but Michelle Zenor believes that the Clint W. Murchison Library is even more important to future generations.

“The more literate the individuals are in a community, the better off the community is as a whole,” she said. “Literacy is very important today and always.”

Zenor was appointed director of the library in October 2018 by Henderson County commissioners. A native of Mesquite, she said she grew up with fond memories of going to the Mesquite Library as a child. When it came time to complete her education, she chose SMU, majoring in English.

After obtaining her degree, she received her master's degree in library science at Texas Women's University, which took 2 years of full time dedication and a thesis.

She then went to work for Lon Morris College in Jacksonville as an English professor and librarian for 17 years until the school closed because of bankruptcy. Zenor worked at several other public libraries, including the Rusk County Library at the main branch in downtown Henderson.

Zenor said that she believes the library is a partner with the digital age. In rural communities, the library is not just a place to check out books but a connection to technology, where those services may otherwise be unavailable. The library in Athens offers access to the internet, eBooks, reference materials and programs.

And one of the new features Zenor has accomplished is WiFi hot spots patrons can check out for two weeks at a time so they can have internet at home or while traveling. The library also is offering a program called “Books for Babies,” in which each baby born at UT Health in Athens will be given a book.

To be appointed, Zenor interviewed with two library committees before the board suggested her as the new director. In February, she told Athens Rotary Club members that she believes remain “useful research” tools. Zenor gave a brief history of the Athens library, telling club members that the original library was built in 1940 by a women's club. After one failed bond election in 1970, the passage of a bond in 1971 allowed the creation of the library at its current location on Prairieville Street.

Thanks to the efforts of Dick Dwelle, a former owner of the Athens Daily Review, the library was moved from a building built by the women's club to where it is now — once home to the United States Post Office. Dwelle advocated building a larger post office while moving the library to Prairieville Street. In 1968, Athens Rotary Club members wrote a letter supporting Dwelle's efforts for a new post office building and creating the Henderson County library.

It was named for Clint Murchison in 1973. Clint Murchison Jr. and John Dabney provided a matching grant met through private gifts to the Public Library Fund. The PLF converted the former Athens post office into a library.

Today, it operates off county and city of Athens funds, private donations, corporate donations and grants. Library programs include Baby Time for children from birth to 2 years old; Story Time for kids from 3 to pre-K; the summer reading program; Family Movie Night on Thursdays at 5 and adult craft and healthy eating classes.

The library hosts its annual Books in Bloom fundraiser at First United Methodist Church today with keynote speaker Author Sarah Bird. She is the author of 10 novels. During her appearance at the Books in Bloom luncheon, she will discuss her latest novel, “Daughters of a Daughter of a Queen.”

Bird has been a storyteller on NPR and has written for Oprah’s Magazine, New York Times Sunday Magazine and op-ed page, Chicago Tribune, Real Simple, Mademoiselle, Glamour, Salon, Daily Beast, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, MS, Texas Observer and Texas Monthly.

On April 30, the library will be part of the East Texas Giving Day for the first year. A donor has offered to match up to $1,000 in donations.