Your local library: More than a place to check out books

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

August 18, 2021

Denise Carter, who has been the director of Lake Whitney Public Library for 15 years and a librarian for 44 years, has a passion for helping people and sharing her love for books with others. She said The Wonkey Donkey is one of her favorite books because, “It’s one of those books you laugh at every time you hear it, even if you read it every week.”

Nearly two-thirds of adult Americans say that if their local library closed, it would have a major impact on their community, according to a 2016 Pew survey. The same survey found that 55% of people over the age of 16 believe libraries make significant contributions to the community during times of crisis. The Lake Whitney Public Library looks beyond the traditional library expectations of loaning out books and makes efforts to cater to the needs of the community by providing a wide variety of services for multiple age groups, and 46 of these services were offered during the COVID-19 lockdowns.


Denise Carter, who has been the Lake Whitney Public Library director for 15 years and has been a librarian for 44 years, said she became a librarian because, “I always enjoyed books. I enjoyed reading. It’s mainly to help people. Most jobs you do the same thing all day long. In this job, you don’t do the same thing ever. Every time you walk in the door, it’s new because you don’t know what people are going to want. The other thing I love about it is that the only limitation is your imagination. Any of these services I was showing you, we dream them up.”


Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, the library has been hosting more events that can improve people’s mental health, physical health or literary skills. To name a few, certified yoga instructors taught classes for free; the library website listed the phone number of a therapist from the Church of Christ who was available on a full-time basis; the book club continued to meet on the patio; hundreds of free books and magazines were given away for free from the library front porch; more free E-books became accessible; and instructional Zoom classes allowed children to interact with each other while gaining knowledge about topics like computer coding, E-Reader, Windows 10 or e-mail. Additionally, the library created flyers that explained, in a step-by-step format, how people could get their stimulus money.


“Over the years I’ve done this, I can think of so many stories that if it weren’t for libraries, people would be truly lost. During this crisis, we had a lot of people that were not doing well mentally, and we made sure they could have help,” Carter said.


The Whitney library was able to remain open during the coronavirus lockdowns because it transitioned to a curbside delivery service. Originally, the library wasn’t going to be allowed to count the hours it spent operating through curbside checkout on its financial report. This would have decreased the library’s funding for the following year, which would have limited the library’s events, services and resources. Carter called the superintendent for the Library Commission and changed this rule for Whitney library, along with all other Texas libraries using curbside delivery.


“Because of Whitney, every small library in Texas got to count their stats for curbside,” Carter said.


The Whitney library works to help people get jobs by showing them how to apply to the Workforce Solutions website. The library also strives to improve the literacy of people who are already in the workforce.


“There were a lot of people that couldn’t read that had jobs. We helped them get better at what they were doing. We weren’t trying to make them change jobs. We just wanted them to be the best in their field,” Carter said.


Another age group the library reaches is senior citizens. Curbside delivery was very popular among senior citizens, and curbside services will probably continue forever, according to Carter.


“One of the age levels we try to reach is the older ladies because there’s not a whole lot of things out there for them, so we keep really good books. Our book club is geared that way. When they come in, they’ll tell you ‘my husband passed away, and if it weren’t for your books, I couldn’t have made it.’ It really breaks my heart. When they come in, I think ‘this is why we do this,'” Carter said.


On the other hand, the library uses numerous tactics to engage young readers. When children have read or listened to 100 books before reaching kindergarten, they make the library “wall of fame.” Members of the wall of fame get their picture taken and posted onto the library wall next to other wall of farmers.


For children who are introverted or building their confidence as a reader, the library has a “reading buddy” program. Reading buddies are rocks decorated with googly eyes that children can read to and keep in their pockets while in school. These buddies come complete with adoption papers.


“It makes it really fun for the kids to have somebody to read to,” Carter said.


According to Carter, the library usually has 80 children in summer reading, a program designed for ages four to 14. This year, the library hosted summer reading daily, but instead of gathering in large crowds, the children were split into small groups. When attending summer reading, children usually win prizes, which range from toys out of the ‘treasure chest’ to a map color and marker set.


“If children do not read in the summer, if they take the summer off, they’ll lose 35% of what they learned in school that year. The library is so important for preschool kids and small children. We, the library staff, study child development just like a teacher or a parent, so that we know the ways board books are important for a child to hold. Even if they can’t read, they’re in tubs on the floor like a toy, and there’s little toys in that tub, so that book becomes so familiar that it is something they want to hold,” Carter said.


The library can also be a place for older students to become more independent and increase their literature skills. It has a “Learning Express,” which allows students to learn new computer skills and prepare for exams such as STAAR, GED, SAT or ACT.


In 2011, Lake Whitney Public Library was one of nine libraries in the State of Texas selected by the Library Journal Index of Public Library Service that received four stars for meeting the four criteria required.


“We have people right now that when they’re looking at a house, they come and check out the library first. When they come in, they say ‘this is a progressive town because it has a nice library.’ I think that’s important because people see what they’re going to have when they get here,” Carter said.


The library receives funds from the federal, state and local government. When the library moved to a new building in 2014, the entire building was built by donation. Not a single tax dollar was spent. Carter said she is thankful for all the people in town who contribute to the success of the library, including its advocate group, Friends of The Library.


“As libraries make a difference in the lives of our users and community, our staff has a passion for helping people with their needs. We always welcome input from our community friends,” Carter said.


For more information and to stay up to date on the latest library events, visit https://www.whitneylibrary.org/.

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