For The Love Of Books

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Meridian Public Library provides North Bosque County with services going beyond the role as a small town book depository

MERIDIAN – In a world of fleeting images, endless snippets of information that disappear as soon as they surfaced, books are tangible, always accessible, and therefore very much alive. Book depositories like libraries remain relevant, and matter. Despite their perceived obsolescence in the digital age, both libraries and librarians remain irreplaceable for many reasons.

As with things that matter, there are numerous quotes to be found on the importance of libraries, and the librarians that keep them running. And they all apply to a unique small town establishment and asset – the Meridian Public Library.

Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.

R. DAVID LANKES - Professor and Director of the School of Library & Information Science at the University of South Carolina, the Follett Chair at Dominican’s Graduate School of Library & Information Science, and recipient of the American Library Association’s 2016 Ken Haycock Award for Promoting Librarianship

Especially in smaller communities, libraries, along with churches and schools are the glue that holds a community together. And everyone who plays a part in making libraries possible is also making the world a better place.

To ask why we need libraries at all, when there is so much information available elsewhere, is about as sensible as asking if road maps are necessary now that there are so very many roads.

JON BING (1944-2014) - Norwegian writer and law professor at the Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law

In today’s fast-paced digital life, stepping into a book store or a library is stepping into a calm, safe haven, physically surrounded by years and years and years of knowledge, imagination and art – the art of painting pictures with words. You don’t have to be a bibliophile to enjoy a library. If you come to a library regularly, you are bound to meet the same or like-minded people – offering social interaction over the common love and appreciation of books – you find book buddies.

Besides that, nothing beats how books allow the reader to become an armchair explorer, get immersed into a story, find comfort in flipping the pages, the tactical sensation of paper as you turn the page to the next part of the story. And to quote the splendid Dr. Seuss, thanks to books “The more you read, the more you know. The more you learn, the more places you go.”

Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.

SIDNEY SHELDON (1917-2007) - American writer and producer

After many years of being without a library, a board of directors was elected and charged with the responsibility of establishing a library to serve the community with the hope of improving the quality of life in Meridian and North Bosque County. The Meridian Library Association was chartered as a non-profit corporation, and the Internal Revenue Service granted tax-exempt status in the spring of 2000.

So this year marks the important and happy 20th anniversary of the Meridian Public Library.

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Longtime Meridian Public Library Director Sarita Ellis shows off some fundraiser items.

“If you see a turtle in a tree, you know it didn’t get there by itself,” Sarita Ellis said. With the statement Ellis implies that the Meridian library would not exist without the vision, commitment and perseverance of the founding members. And now the library cannot exist without the help of the many people who visit it, who support it through volunteer time or donations. A retired educator, Ellis was the Library Director for 13 of the 20 years the present library has existed.

“Mary Beth and Don McMahon are really the birth parents of the library,” Ellis said. “It was quite the ordeal to get it started. And all librarians and directors after that were all nannies taking care of the precious child.”

When moving to Meridian over 20 years ago, Mary Beth was thrilled to see the Memorial Library Building on Main Street. Much to her dismay, the collection consisted of a few book shelves in the back of the Senior Citizens Center with a rack of ridiculously outdated magazines.

“I was going to the library with my mother since I was 3, and got my own library card on my sixth birthday,” said McMahon illustrating her love for books and reading from a very early age. “Getting a library in Meridian became a passion of mine.”

Without the drive and determination of the founders cutting through red tape, setting up parameters, navigating the complex world of regulations and applying for grants, the present library would not even exist. It's thanks to these founding visionaries – like the McMahons, Ed Williamson, Jim Davis, Cindy West, Ollie Evinger, Jo Ann St. Clair, Michelle Garza, Sue Kerley, Judge David Christian, Jane Murphey, Beverly Lawson, Sky Parsons, Larry Davis and many, many more and their supporters – that North Bosque County has such a unique asset to offer the community.

“Everybody was willing to pitch in, and boy did they ever pitch in,” MacMahon recalls  – to the point of scrubbing floors, adding restrooms, putting up shelving for the donated books. Receiving the Establishment Grant from the State the first three years of operation, and later the Texas Infrastructure Fund grant for the computers, server and communication tower, was a feat on its own.

The library started in the building on the corner of Hamilton and Erath with about 100 members before moving to the present location in 2004.

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Don McMahon receives a plaque recognizing his continuous  assistance to the Meridian Public Library, as founding member and as Chili Gang member.

“Not only is the building a special place, it is a critical place for the kids,” McMahon said. “Not everybody has a computer or printer. So it was important we became a school bus stop, making it easy for the kids to come and work at the library.”

“We gave it a good start, and I hope it continues for a long time to come,” McMahon said. “We are lucky that people have been very supportive over the years.”

“What they had to do, to get this library started is truly astonishing,” Present Library Director Marianne Woerner said.

Woerner, who recently moved to Meridian with her husband, started as a volunteer at the library then hired on part time. Woerner has a long career in business management and immediately saw the need to replace technology and to upgrade the library’s book and audio collections. With her working on applying for grants, the library received three in 2019 – one replaced 15 computers and printers, and the other two were designated for children's books.

In 2020, the library had already received two additional grants to purchase more new children's and adult books. One of the grants received was a very competitive grant from the J. Frank Dobie Library Trust.

J. Frank Dobie was a legendary folklorist, writer, and newspaper columnist best known for his many books depicting the richness and traditions of life in rural Texas during the days of the open range. Growing up on a ranch in rural Live Oak County in southwest Texas, Dobie learned firsthand how vital public libraries in small, particularly rural, areas are to their communities.

“Just think, years from now, a book bought with Dobie Trust funds may open the mind of some young person and change the direction of his life.” Dobie said when he established the trust.

A major criterion for the grants is the extent to which the library is supported by its community. Being selected to receive a Dobie grant thus reflects not only the importance of the Meridian Public Library to the community it serves, but also the strength of the entire community.

"The selection committee was favorably impressed with the efforts made by both the library and the community it serves to provide much needed public library services,” the letter announcing the grant said. “It is our hope that this award will expand the offerings of the Meridian Public Library enrich the lives of people in the community".

Woerner’s personal goal is to have the Meridian Public Library win the achievement of library excellence award in 2020 and to add adult and more children's programs. She also want to provide more programs for different demographics and give people the chance to just talk about the books they have read, possibly during a breakfast meeting.

The internet is an indispensable and irreplaceable tool for modern living. But the availability and sheer amount of globe spanning digital information is daunting. Libraries are safe places without fake news on or marketing ploys where librarians can help people navigate the information offered in different media, including books.

In the nonstop tsunami of global information, librarians provide us with floaties and teach us to swim.

LINTON WEEKS - Washington Post Staff Writer in Washington Post, January 13, 2001

Librarians lead patrons to exactly what they need. They do not track reading or search histories to sell their patrons things. Librarians do not censor, except maybe guide patrons to what would be age or reading level appropriate.

And besides helping in a search for information, a librarian is responsible for a library’s management and services. They take care of the library and its resources. A typical job of a librarian includes managing collection development and acquisitions, cataloging, collections management, circulation, and providing a range of services, such as reference, information, instruction and training services, etc.

Presently, librarian Tina Sartor and Library Director Woerner manage all these matters for the Meridian Public Library. Recently, they culled older books out of the inventory, donating them to the local nursing home or offering them for free or donation-only at the curb on Main Street.

Sartor and Woerner are guided by an eight-person board that helps shape the library’s vision and direction. Book lovers first and foremost, many board members are former educators or come from the business, finance or marketing world, and they bring their unique skill sets and experiences to the table, all to maintain and improve the library. Over the years, many have volunteered their time and money to the worthwhile cause of keeping the library up and running.

The present board consists of President Pam Hardcastle – retired after working 30 years in Technical Service & Development for Dow Chemical Co.; Vice President Jeanette Kattner – retired Meridian Hallmark Gift Shop owner and teacher for Meridian & Kopperl ISD; Secretary Dianne Mobley – Retired CPA and business owner; Interim treasurer Kerry Hicks – Preschool teacher and owner of Little Smarties Preschool for the past 17 years; Mollie Culpepper – Stay at home mom and homeschooler of two girls, and farm business owner/manager; Dana Williams – starting 31st year with Wells Fargo Bank providing escalation and issue resolution and project support for internal partners; Teri Staats – retired elementary school teacher from Alaska; Erin Gebhardt – Former Meridian ISD employee for 10 years and has been elementary school librarian.

Sartor and her husband moved to Bosque County from West Texas several years ago. Sartor brings lots of work experience in higher education, accounting, school board and library work. She is also a notary, which adds another valuable community service to the library’s list of services. She loves to open up the joy of reading to individuals of all ages and states it is never too early and never too late. With all the work managing the library’s collection and additional services, Sartor only has one comment “I just do not get to sit and read all these wonderful books.”

Librarian is a service occupation. Gas station attendant of the mind.

RICHARD POWERS - An American novelist whose works explore the effects of modern science and technology

The Meridian Public Library personal mission is to provide education support, library and information services, training and outreach to Meridian and surrounding communities. The library provides free services to the community, giving children and adults access to a variety of reading materials that include books, audio books, Large print books and DVD’s as well as available computers and WIFI. By making these resources available, the library helps members of all ages from children to adults to improve their level of education and livelihood within the community.

In non-COVID times, hundreds of people come through its doors every month to lend a book or DVD, get help filling out or sending income tax forms, do homework with help at hand, research stuff on the computers, attend early literacy classes, enjoy story and craft time, use the copier or fax, access the fast Wifi, read the paper and have a cup of coffee. And all this with just one, free library card.

In times of economic hardship, citizens can turn to the library for help printing out resumes, or job application letters, start an online course using the library computers.

Engaging parents and their pre-school children stands out as something the library is passionate about. Research suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. In fact, reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background. A person is limited in what they can accomplish without good reading and comprehension skills.

With that in mind, former Meridian Elementary School Librarian Erin Gebhardt offers Story Time every Tuesday at 10 a.m. Now in the time of COVID-19, Sartor films Gebhardt on her phone, and the week’s story and craft is available through the library’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MeridianTexasPublicLibrary

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Former Meridian Public Library board member Ruth Crawford and longtime Director of Library Services Sarita Ellis at a Meridian Public Library Jewels and Jeans fundraiser.

Another important program is the Summer Reading program, which helps students maintain their reading level during the summer months. The mind is a muscle. It needs exercise, even during summer vacation. This summer the reading program’s theme is “Imagine Your Story.”

“Being library director didn't feel like a job for me, because it gave me the feeling of being part of something good in our community,” Ellis said. “The library holds a lot of sweet memories for me. It gave me great joy, getting to know the patrons, find out what they liked, showing them new books that came in.

“And then getting to know all the volunteers, the kids. Those kids are not going to remember me or the librarians name. But in the future, they will bring their kids to the building and remember how it felt.”

Many of the years Ellis was Director of Library Services, she was assisted by Librarian Lesli Scott and volunteer/library board member, and dear friend Tena Ward. Because of their work at the library, the ladies were well known throughout the community. Over the years, Ellis and Ward loved to dress up for Halloween and offer treats to the patrons with their dressed up children, adding to their great popularity.

Libraries are community treasure chests, loaded with a wealth of information available to everyone equally, and the key to that treasure chest is the library card. I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card.

LAURA BUSH - Former First Lady said about the wonderful institutions that pave the way to enlightenment, knowledge and critical thinking

Preserving the Meridian Public library is therefore important to many people. To this day, the Meridian library is a unique institution, a special asset and the envy of many small towns, worth cherishing and supporting. Preserving the Meridian Public Library remains important to many people today, 20 years later.

The Meridian Public Library exists solely through generous donations from its patrons, and in kind and monetary support from the City of Meridian.

With state and federal funding all but dried up for libraries, an important task for the Library Board is to solicit donations, apply for grants and raise funds for operating costs. At regular intervals the Library holds fundraisers to generate funds to pay for the Library’s operational costs. The major annual fundraisers are the popular Jewels & Jeans Gala and the Meridian Public Library Fall Supper.

More often than not, the illustrious gentleman of the Chili Gang sweated over the pots of chili or the coals for the steak tips during the fundraisers. The amount of support shown at the fundraisers shows the library’s significant community connection.

With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates. It is the most democratic of institutions because no one – but no one at all – can tell you what to read and when and how.

DORIS LESSING – renowned British-Zimbabwean novelist

And nowhere else in life are people encouraged to indulge and to take as much as they can carry. Currently, there are over 2,775 patrons that can choose from an unprecedented 16,000 titles.

Because there’s no commitment to purchase or store the books, library patrons are free to explore any topic or author that strikes their fancy from the history of windjammers to cultivating a vegetable garden to losing themselves in the magical world of Hogwarths.

Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.

LADY BIRD JOHNSON – First Lady as the wife of the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson; supporter of the LBJ Library and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

Since its inception, the Meridian Public Library annually submits a lengthy report including visitor amounts, the services they offer their patrons, budget and expenses to be a state-accredited library. All these have to meet certain state standards.

With libraries essential in a process of giving citizens access to books and knowledge, being accredited allows the library Meridian Public Library to participate in several programs that benefit the library’s patrons and expand the access to other resources. They include the TexShare Database Program, which provides a wealth of electronic database resources which cover over 700 public, academic, and libraries of clinical medicine throughout the state at a significant cost savings. The TexShare card program also allows the registered users of participating institutions to directly borrow materials from the libraries of other participating institutions.

The love of libraries, like most loves, must be learned.

ALBERTO MANGUEL – 1948 Argentine-Canadian anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist, editor, and a former Director of the National Library of Argentina

With a world of information literally at their fingertips through computers, Ipads and smart phones, the younger generation less frequently visits the traditional vestiges for literature and knowledge.

To accommodate the more digitally-minded and to encourage them to use the library in a less traditional way, the Meridian Public Library has been member of the Central Texas Digital Library Consortium since 2011. Through the CTDLC, they offer Overdrive – an online catalogue for e-books, audio books and DVD’s in several different formats. This adds another 19,000 titles for library members to choose from.

Amazon and Barnes and Noble sites might have more titles, but you pay on average $9.99 for a title. Through the Meridian Library Online Catalog, the Overdrive site is completely free to its patrons. Patrons can access the catalog from home and do not need to come into the library to access it.

As many libraries, the Meridian Public Library preserves local and area history, artifacts and stories as well as being a resource for current local activities. Evidence of that function is the bookcase donated by the Lomax family, filled with books and information on John A. Lomax – Meridian born and raised documenter of Chisholm Trail cowboy ballads, folk songs and the blues.

The library also has special sections dedicated to local and Texas subjects. Thanks to a Tocker Foundation Collection Enhancement Program the library received 95 books worth over $2,500 from the Texas Book Consortium and Texas A&M University Press.

The books are mainly non-fiction books focused on Texas and Texas history. The list includes titles At the Heart of Texas, The European Texans, The Asian Texans, the Handbook of Texas Music, Roller Coaster Life of a Texas Wildcatter, books on Texas flora, fauna and ornithology, Texas Art, Texas politicians and Texas schools and colleges like Texas High School Mascots, Texas College Rodeo and Aggie history, Rock beneath the Sand about country churches in central Texas, Family Saga – a collection of Texas family legends from the Texas Folklore Society which includes the story Wild Goose by Palmer Henry Olsen from Clifton. Texas Landscapes is a coffee table book with 202 photos from Texas Highways Magazine showing the diversity and beauty of Texas landscapes.

“Many outlanders think Texas is a land of cactus flats and high plains ranches, its landscape broken only by barbed wire fences or perhaps an oil derrick. Texans of course know better,” the inside cover reads.

The Tocker Foundation is dedicated to the support of rural libraries of Texas. Their current emphasis focuses on extending public library services to individuals who, by reason of distance, residence, handicap, age, literacy level or other disadvantage, are unable to receive the benefits of public library services. Smaller libraries, like Meridian’s benefit significantly from their support. Besides book grants, they have helped pay for new and extra shelving.

Unfortunately because of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns for public health, the door to the library is closed. But that does not mean library patrons have to do without its services. They will have to be patient regarding the big 20th anniversary party the library wants to hold. The 2020 Jewels & Jeans Gala was supposed to be that party, but COVID threw a wrench in that celebration.

The library currently offers curbside service to their patrons to take out books, DVD's and audiobooks. Contact the library by phone at 254-435-9100, thru the Reserve system using the library card or by emailing the library at Meridianpubliclibrary@hotmail.com with requests. The books are bagged with name to be picked up in front of the library or in the back on the Drop Box. Curbside service is available Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Books can be returned to the new, weather-proof  box at the rear of the library. There are no fines for late books/dvds during this time.If you need help with using our ebook offerings please call the library at 254-435-9100 or visit their Facebook page.

The Meridian Public Library is located at 118 North Main St. Meridian is a 501(c)(3) organization, and contributions are tax-deductible under the Internal Revenue Tax Code.

The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.

ALBERT EINSTEIN - German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics. His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 

2 comments

  1. TENA WARD 18 August, 2020 at 14:35 Reply

    Simone, I really enjoyed your article on the Meridian Public Library. Sarita sent it to me. Do you print any of your articles? We are living in Arlington. Our Meridian place is still up for sale. I miss you all and treasure the years I spent in Meridian.

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