Investing in My Community

The summer has been unusually busy, but it has also been extraordinarily rewarding. Last summer a fledgling library was started in my rural community. We squished a few donated book shelves into a small store on main street. The store owners graciously allowed us to use their store, and we began accepting used books of every kind. This tiny town had never had, in its entire history, a library. The county library is 30 miles away for some of our residents, not convenient enough to make use of. Books poured in. Fiction filled half our space, but we also had sections for history, travel (if outdated tour books of Mexico count), pets, and of coarse self-help. A few people wandered in occasionally. More books were sent our way. And more books. And more.  

Colorful fiction fills our shelves.

It became obvious that we needed more space – and more patrons. We launched a community meeting and began looking at empty spaces around town. In our one traffic light town of 1,200 residents, there were not many options. We quickly ran into the ever-present wall: no money. The great thing about a small community is that everyone talks to everyone. News travels faster than a speeding bullet. We simply mentioned to a few people that we needed non-profit status and to begin fundraising. The very next day we were told that we had non-profit status under a community services non-profit in town. Someone had told the president, the president had sent out an email, all members voted in the affirmative by email, and it was done. They had become our umbrella.

We blinked our eyes and shook our head. “Wait! We aren’t ready.” It doesn’t matter. It was a done deal. Then the money began pouring in. People would stop by and hand us $100. “You are doing a great thing here!” they would say. And the books poured in.

Several months went by in the arduous task of looking for – and agreeing on – the new location. Though I hated the process of heated debate, the needed evaluation and discussion were very valuable. It was also a huge turning point for us. We went from a tiny store corner to our very own building. We also had to look into the face of a monthly commitment to paying rent and utilities. That was scary! We are just a tiny group of people in a tiny town. Many times, someone in the group would say, “We don’t have to move. Let’s stay here. We don’t have the money.” And it was true, we didn’t have the money. We only had a vision of what could be.

The local civic club handed us a check for $5,000. We put on a fundraising dinner and earned another $1,000. We were off!

Moving day was June 1. People came out of the woodwork to pack and move boxes of books. There we were, standing in a large open room – with only a couple of tiny mismatched bookcases. Now what were we going to do?

New book shelves – Lots of boxes of books.

Our president of the board stepped up and said he would build them. He designed, built, stained and clear coated each bookcase. We were all amazed! As soon as he set a finished bookcase in the new library, we would fill it with books. More books poured in. One trailer brought 30 boxes! We now have over 6,000 linear feet of book shelf space and we are still building.

Though the library is still a work in progress, last Saturday we were overflowing with visitors. A local celebration brought many people to town, and they all had to come and see their new library. Little ones found cute board books, pre-teens found chapter books, grandmothers found new fiction to read and the history buffs had more than a myriad of titles to choose from. The library’s copier, computers and internet access now give low income residents a place to connect with the world for no cost. Anyone can now walk in the door and engage their love of reading. Where there was once nothing, now there is a warm hub of friendship that links us with literacy.

And the best part of it all? When we volunteers are long gone, new generations will walk in this door and take a book off the shelf.

How have you invested in your community? What do communities need more of these days?