A library in a little town is more than just a library. Many of the small-town libraries I visit for author talks are at the heart of their communities, serving as a hub for all manner of events. But what has impressed me most about these libraries are the amazing people who lead them. Please join me in talking with Tina Welch and Lisa Moreland, who connect kids with good books and so much more in rural Kansas. Just be sure to park your muddy boots outside!
How long have you been youth librarians?
Tina: My job title is Library Director. We do not have enough staff to “delegate”
so we are all children/youth librarians. I have been at Harper Public Library for 10 years. I love reading and thought I could really serve my community through this job.
Lisa: I have been the Director at the Caldwell Public Library from 2006 until present. The “official” size of Caldwell is a little over a thousand so I order books and lead story times and change toilet paper. 🙂
What other services do your libraries offer that benefit the community?
Tina: We have a conference room that people can rent, we offer DVD’s, GED
testing, Kill-a-watts, display room, a notary service, our teen club
(service and fun, not a book club) and we bring in various speakers and
presentations from a retired NASA Astrophysicists to a Bee Keeper.
Lisa: Some of the things we do to reach out to the community are host Parents as Teachers, Legos Clubs, and art exhibits. We also host local performers and news and weather personalities, as well as bring in other interesting professionals.
What are some of the challenges and advantages of libraries in small towns?
Tina: Smaller budget, smaller staff, often have to pay extra to get speakers out
here. The same small set of people do the majority of volunteering or
fundraising for everything in town and are often “tapped out” by time it
comes to the Library. Everyone knows where I live, what car I drive, my
home phone number and family members – often have to literally leave town
to get “away” from work. Returned books show up on my front porch or in my
The small things that can be a disadvantage can be an advantage. Because we have less money to work with, we are appreciative of what we do have. The staff is so small, that cross-training is a must. Because we can’t afford Big Name – out of town people, we highlight the ones that are here. Even if people watch to see my car go to the library, they are also the first to ask if I am sick or my husband or my youngest son (Type 1 Diabetic) anytime I am not at work.
Lisa: Yes, I think it IS harder to be a children’s or ANY librarian in smaller towns because, in my opinion, the unemployment rate seems to be higher due to the smaller amount of jobs available. A librarian is serving not only his/her patrons’ literary needs, but also their spiritual and emotional and DAILY LIVING needs. I have been known to bring in food from my pantry for patrons or buy them lunch . . . as I say, “I don’t work for the money.” Of course, I need to be paid something to cover my own expenses, but I really do believe that working at the library is my ministry, however small it may be . . . fortunately, my husband agrees!
How does being in a small town give you the opportunity to reach at-risk children?
Tina: Big opportunity!!! We work with the school on many projects such as: Battle of the Books, AR books, presentations. I have even had teachers that would call me at the Library to let me know about a kids’ homework so that I could help them here and would not let them play games on the computer until the homework was done (parents agreed to this arrangement). We are the closest thing to a “Latch Key” program our little city has. We often have kids after school until Grandma, Mom, etc. pick them up after they get off work. In the summer we get kids that cannot afford the pool and sometimes do not have air conditioning at home. The school often sets up tutoring for kids to take place at the Library. In the summer many of the kids eat the free lunch provided by local churches downtown and then come to the library until a parent gets off work or until the heat of the day is gone. As I stated earlier we are a safe place and we would not let anything happen to one of our “kids.” Heck, we even go to 8th grade and high school graduations for some of these kids because we are so glad they stayed in school.
Lisa: I’ll give you a couple examples: Todd (I’m making up that name, per your books:) is a twin and he and his twin brother will be in the 5th Grade next year. Their parents have recently divorced and both parents have re-married. His twin brother mows lawns with his new stepbrother, but Todd doesn’t and is therefore at the library a lot.
To be honest, last summer, Todd was a problem and would often be disruptive. This year, I kind of “took him under my wings” and gave him various volunteer projects. He tells others that he “works for me” and has “worked at the library for about a year.”
Like most kids, he would always “push his luck” and try to “get” more and more out of me, whether it be a drink from the fridge in the break room — or even the library’s digital camera! He said that his camera needed batteries…. The next time I worked, I made a point of bringing in a new pack of AA batteries and when he saw them, Todd said, “Are these for me?!” with the biggest grin on his face. You would have thought I was Santa Claus! It’s amazing how the littlest things to us can be the biggest things to kids who feel unloved or unappreciated at home.
Another young patron (same age as Todd) said that his mother “wouldn’t let him” fill out his summer reading chart because she couldn’t find any pens. . . . who knows if that was the truth, or if she just didn’t have the motivation or interest in helping out her son . . . so SAD! Of course, I still gave this patron reading prizes because I know he is a reader, given the books he asks me to order for him. This young man has diagnosed mental illness issues and can become quite agitated. One day, when I knew he was about to break down (he starts yelling and/or crying), I gave him $5 and said to go to the gas station and buy a treat for himself. He told me the next time I saw him that he used the money to buy presents for his younger brother and sister. Now, Lou — THAT’s why I do what I do!! And because I have always loved people and books!!!
Thank you ladies for all you do to build up your communities and your patrons!
Please tell us about YOUR favorite library or how a librarian has touched your life in the comments below.
Louise Galveston is the author of By The Grace of Todd and In Todd We Trust (Penguin/Razorbill.)