A Community’s Home, A Librarian’s Heart

Rosemary Gregg, Editor

Let’s flashback 50 years. It’s junior year, and you’ve been assigned your first research paper for the year, so you spend the next several days in the library rampaging through book after book. There aren’t answers at the back of the book, and you can’t simply Google a question or phone a friend for help. Now let’s return to the present. Passionate librarians are constantly modernizing in order to stay relevant–adding new technologies and services and renovating libraries.

Assistant director for the Saline County Library System, Jill Martin, started working 10 years ago in the children’s department as a librarian.

“It’s really rewarding to put the perfect book in the hands of a child who is looking for something,” Martin said. “Especially if the kid doesn’t really like to read.”

Martin decided to be a librarian in college and then directly after got her master’s degree in library science. As a devoted reader, her favorite book is “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen.

“It’s nice to [work] somewhere that’s warm and inviting and fun as opposed to a traditional office,” Martin said.

After 16 years, the Mabel Boswell Memorial Library was shut down over the summer for two months in order to renovate. The library added modern furniture, game systems, tile floor and red painting for the walls.

“We’re basically trying to make the library seem more inviting and brand new,” Martin said.

Martin understands the impact that the transition to online books from paperback books have had on the library.

“You don’t have to come in to the library anymore to be a library patron,” Martin said. “Traditionally, libraries had to have tons and tons of books, but now that people are reading online, the library can be used a little differently.”

Instead of just books, the Mabel Boswell Memorial Library provides free internet, mobile hotspots, gaming supplies, Halloween costumes, baking utensils, board games, DVDs and PS4 VR headsets.

“[We are] trying to continue to make the library relevant and a place for the whole community,” Martin said. “Obviously, literacy is so important and the number one thing that we’re pushing, but the fact is, not everyone enjoys reading, so we still want to have something for everyone to do.”

Martin understands the importance of introducing libraries to kids early on. The majority of brain growth occurs before the age of five. By the age of three, roughly 85 percent of the brain’s core structure is formed.

“The most important thing I think public libraries do is story time,” Martin said. “Bringing small children to the library before they start kindergarten and participating in our story time teaches them to listen to stories, sing songs and do crafts.”

The Mabel Boswell library also offers free daily online tutoring and SAT and ACT prep through their BrainFuse subscription.

“I think 30 years from now, libraries will have less materials in them, [but] I don’t think books will ever completely go away,” Martin said. “I think it’s really gonna focus on the services that the library has to offer, so there will be more technology assistants and providing things that some people can’t get.”

School librarian Jana Dixon graduated with her degree in library science from Florida State University online in April 2002. Arkansas requires school librarians to be  certified teachers first, so Dixon got her certification in English, but she went back to college and began working on her degree in library science only four months after she became a teacher.

“I love reading,” Dixon said. “I always wanted to be a librarian.”

During the summers, she would often read a book a day, and when she got in trouble, her mother limited her reading.

“At night, I was that kid that had a flashlight under the covers,” Dixon said. “I liked to read.”

Dixon appreciates her job because she gets to help students and work closely with teachers.

“I really don’t think that there are many things that I would consider doing besides this,” Dixon said. “This is where my passion is. It combines two things that I really love: books and technology. I get to work with kids, still teach classes and collaborate with teachers.”

Dixon taught seventh and eighth grade english and creative reading at Fountain Lake middle school before moving to Bryant in 2018.

“One of the things that people don’t realize is that as a librarian, you are a teacher too,” Dixon said. “So a lot of the things that I teach students is how to find the best sources of information, use databases, how to use technology. I collaborate with teachers to do projects.”

Dixon taught at Cutter Morning Star library for 10 years, and one of her favorite parts about being a librarian there was helping students with projects.

“That’s one of the things I like about the library is the variety,” Dixon said. “I get to see a lot of different classes and projects.”

While Dixon personally uses ebooks and audiobooks, she feels like paperback books are still the most popular among high schoolers, but are more popular among college students.

“I don’t know that students have made the transfer to ebooks,” Dixon said.  “I don’t see students using them. That’s something that hasn’t changed a lot, there’s still not a lot of students that like the ebooks.”

Dixon believes that libraries will continue to prosper in the future.

“I don’t think that there’s been a decrease necessarily in the use of the library,” Dixon said. “Libraries revolve around using information. It becomes even more critical that you know that the source that you have is credible.”