Residents proud of new Ohatchee Public Library

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: July 3, 2006

OHATCHEE – The librarian at the newly opened Ohatchee Public Library doesn’t need to be a stern figure shushing the children: except for the reading group on Thursday afternoons, the library often is empty.

Although the shelves still feature many bare patches, library and town officials say they are excited to have brought this resource to the area.

For many in this rural town on the western edge of Calhoun County, the new public library is a source of civic pride.

“A public library is one of the cornerstones of any community,” Ohatchee Mayor Joseph Roberson said. “It’s one of the social agencies that makes a community a community.”

“We’re not just a bunch of hodunks out here or rednecks,” added Devona Phillips, a teacher at Ohatchee Elementary School who is on the library’s board. “We have well-educated people out here and we want the next generation to be even better.”

The library, which had its grand opening May 21, has been in the works for about six years. It was funded by a $250,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, corporate sponsorships, individual donations, local fundraising, and a $50,000 loan taken out by the city,

The building cost about $378,000, Roberson said, excluding parking, landscaping, the septic tank, and furnishings. The library shares the structure with a senior center.

“By applying for a dual facility that enhanced our chance of getting the grant,” Roberson said. “Instead of funding one facility the state wound up funding two types of public facilities.”

Even though the library’s collection currently includes only about 1,650 books and recordings, 150 people have already signed up for library cards. That’s about 10 percent of Ohatchee’s population.

“That’s very impressive within the library world,” said April Smith, the library director. She added that 79 children are registered for the summer reading program.

Smith said the goal is eventually to have about 10,000 books. Right now there are 750 items waiting to be catalogued, which the staff is doing by hand. A $15,000 grant through the state’s Library Services and Technology Act will allow them to install an automated system in the fall.

The books have come “almost exclusively (from) donations,” Smith said. The Alabama Public Library Service gave several hundred books and the rest were donated by individuals.

Right now, the library is most in need of non-fiction works and children’s books, Smith said.

“Non-fiction does tend to get old and stale and needs to be replaced periodically,” she said. “They’re also more expensive.”

Officials said they thought there was a demand for a local public library, even though Calhoun County residents can use any library in the county for free. The nearest public libraries are in Anniston, 18 miles away, and in Jacksonville, a 20-mile drive.

“Every person who comes in is so grateful and thankful – they recognize the value of information services,” Smith said. “Proximity is very important (because) studies show that most people will not travel to get to a library unless they are really avid readers.”

A local public library is important for Ohatchee’s children, said Phillips, who has taught second grade at Ohatchee Elementary for 19 years.

“It’s such a great opportunity to instill the passion of reading in children,” Phillips said. “Because we’re rural, a lot of times we give the impression that we don’t consider education as important, but we want to change that image and this will help.”

LaShea Cobb, 16, who attends Ohatchee High School and is currently interning at the library for credit to apply to college, agreed. She said she thought the new library would benefit local students.

“It makes it a lot easier for me to find a place to read and research and my parents are a lot more willing to let me go out and drive,” Cobb said. “Being a student of Ohatchee I notice … they seem to work a lot easier if the resources are close to them.”

Tammy Sellers, who was visiting the library with her two children for the first time on Wednesday, said having a library in Ohatchee could “broaden some horizons.”

“They’re kind of county out here, these kids need a library,” Sellers said. “Well, the adults do, too.”

She added that her 10-year-old daughter, Lydia, is an avid reader and has been pestering her for a trip to the library.

“She’s a really smart kid and for kids who are smart like her and don’t have the money to purchase books they can come here,” she said.

Ohatchee’s library is open Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. Mayor Roberson said that the hours would extend as more funds become available.

Roberson added that he thought the library would be a lasting benefit to the community.

“Education’s the key to everything, it’s the key to their future,” he said. “It’s unlimited what you can do if you can read.”

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