A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: The local library is a refuge where all are welcome, regardless of tax bracket


Mrs. Coppage was my first librarian. I remember her as a tiny woman with silvery gray hair piled atop her head in the manner of a Gibson Girl. She conducted regular story hours for little children in my hometown, and we clustered around her like petals on a flower to hear her read.

As she acted out every character, she was transformed. Stray curls escaped from her up-do. The ruffled collar of her blouse went askew. She stamped her feet and altered her sweet, high-pitched voice to fit the mood.

I’ll never forget her rendition of James Whitcomb Riley’s, “Little Orphan Annie.” She had us four-and-five-year olds screaming and howling and stamping our feet when we responded to her cues and echoed the reprise, “The goblins’ll get cha if ya don’t watch out!”

Getting my first library card was a milestone of my pre-school years. It meant I was official, had my own identity. My older sisters and brother could not take it away from me, nor could they use it. The card was mine alone and I could choose what I wanted to read. The responsibility was grave. Books were to be treated with care. Losing or damaging one in any way was a crime, and I am proud to say my record as a borrower was spotless. (Had it been otherwise, my mother would have killed me.)

Given that background, it is no surprise that I grew up to be an ardent advocate of the public library. Even now, when I go back to Metuchen, NJ, where my sister still lives, I end up at the library at least once. Over the years, there have been several major renovations and additions, and the librarians no longer frown and say “Sssh!” the way they did in the old days. In spite of all the changes, it is always like going home.

Since 1988, when I moved to Murray, the Calloway County Public Library has been a resource and a refuge. For years, it was obvious that the library was too small, but that did not deter the librarians, staff, and volunteers from finding innovative ways to serve the increasingly diverse needs of a growing community. Through creative frugality, almost $3 million was socked away to help fund a major addition to the facility.

Without getting deep into the weeds, board and community efforts were stop-and-start, as the County Judge Executive dragged his feet and appointed trustees who pushed hard to acquire a run-down, vacant bank building and retro-fit it as a library. Eventually, the community spoke up, a new county judge was elected, and the library board, with some new members, was ready to move forward and reach agreement on a preliminary design and budget for renovation and expansion of the existing facility.

So 2020 looked like it would be a happy New Year, and then the former judge executive of Calloway County, now a State Representative, pre-filed a bill in early January to make library boards publicly elected, rather than appointed. The basis for the proposal is that taxpayers do not have direct input into those appointed as library trustees, and that elected trustees would provide more oversight to ensure taxpayer revenue is spent as they feel it should be.

Just what we need, more political campaigns. Of all the issues and challenges confronting the Commonwealth of Kentucky, it is surprising to see that making public library boards elected, rather than appointed, is a priority.

Sigh.

In the meantime, the Calloway County Public Library trucks on. Even a quick look at the website demonstrates an array of programs and activities available to all ages, backgrounds, income levels. The mission is straightforward and relevant: “To provide to our community free and equal access to information, materials, services, and programs for personal enrichment, enjoyment, and lifelong learning.”

Onsite, online, at school, home, and work, the library serves the community. From story hour for the kiddies, to public meetings and workshops, to outreach services for the elderly and others, the library is a treasure trove no matter what property taxes you pay. High, medium, low – you are welcome at the library.

Calloway County Public Library is located at 710 Main Street in Murray. The phone is 270-753-2288, and the web address is callowaycountylibrary.org.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.


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