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By Linda Emley
I love books. I collect many things, but my book collection is my true obsession. It’s always fun to find a rare book at a good price, but I don’t need an expensive first edition because I don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s the words inside that make a book valuable to me.
I’ve always dreamed of having my own library, but since my last name is not Rockefeller, I’m just happy that I have a Ray County Library card. Over the past 50 years, I’ve spent many hours at our county library checking out books and using its resources.
We are so lucky to have a wonderful library. It took a lot of people and many years to reach the level of service we have today because in the good-old days, Ray County didn’t have a public library. There were a few private home libraries and lawyers and doctors had reference libraries, but most homes only had a few books and a Bible.
The 1881 Ray County History Book gave an example of an early collection that belonged to one of our leading citizens, William Mosby M.D. “He is thoroughly read in his profession, and has a large, well-selected library, and spends much of his leisure time in the study of the more modern authors on the theory and practice of medicine and surgery.”
The first attempt at a public library in Richmond was when some civil-minded citizens tried to pass a bond for matching fund to obtain a Carnegie Library collection. I’ve read some stories about this in the old newspapers and it would have been wonderful, but the bond didn’t pass.
The second attempt proved to be more successful and a library was opened in the basement of the Methodist Church around 1916. A few years later this collection moved to the Women’s Club. Due to lack of funds, it closed in 1929 and once again Ray County was without a library.
The next chapter in our library history was written by the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Richmond. A very dear lady, LaVon Blair, was the BPW president and with her guidance they chose the task of creating a county library. In April of 1946, the citizens of Ray County voted to finance a library and once again, we were able to enjoy a public library. This early library was housed in a vault at the surveyor’s office at the courthouse. From there, it was moved back to the Women’s Club and later to West Main Street on the north side of the street.
A permanent home was needed, and on June 21, 1954 the new building at 219 College Street was dedicated. This is the library that many of us remember from our childhood. Some of our best memories were the story hours in the children’s section of the basement. I remember being so proud of my first library card. As we got older, the library was a fun place to go after school.
In the spring of 2004, the Ray County Library moved to its current location at 215 E. Lexington St. It took several years to get this building ready, but thanks to The Ray County Library Board and the Ray County Library Inc. Board, it all came together.
This move started a new chapter in the life of our library and now we can enjoy all the advantages of the modern world. There are 23 computers available for public use along with over 54,000 books. We can check out 86 different magazines, 3,129 videos and many audio books. You can access the library Web site at raycountylibrary.homestead.com to check and see if a book in available, to renew books and a variety of other services. The staff is also available to help borrow other books through the interlibrary loan program. Story hour is still a favorite with today’s modern children.
There are 7,476 library card holders which means one out of every three people in Ray County has access to the library’s holdings. In 2010, the library checked out 96,701 items, so it looks like many of these library cards are used on a regular basis. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing a young child standing at the front desk waiting for a stack of library books to be checked out.
Our library has a great collection of genealogical books and old newspapers on microfilm. I’m able to share stories about Ray County’s past because of these resources. The library just added a new microfilm reader that is able to scan and then print, download or email copies. This is a great resource that will make reading the old newspapers so much better.
I’ve been a member of the Ray County Library Friends since 1992. We are a small group, but we continue to host a yearly book sale at the library. All money raised is used to assist with new books, the summer reading program and other projects that benefit the library.
If anyone would like to donate good used books, please drop them by the library. Some donated books are added to the library’s collection and the others are sold to raise money for new books. We will be hosting a book sale that begins this Friday (you’ll find days and hours below). Please stop by and check out the wonderful collection of books we have for sale.
Our library is open between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday, 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and 9 to noon on Saturday. Our library is in good hands with Steve Meyer, who has been the library director since 2004. He’s supported by a wonderful staff. Rochelle, Daun, Linda, Faye and Susan have assisted me many times with my research projects. It’s always a pleasure working with them.
This story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how many people have enjoyed using the bookmobile that once made stops all over Ray County. In the summer time, it would go to many towns and deliver books for kids to read so they could get their summer reading program certificate.
Ted Weber was the bookmobile driver in 1955 and 1956. He said they went to every school in the county, which included 15 country schools. I remember the bookmobile pulling up in front of school during the 1960s, when I was a student.
Our classes would take turns going out to the parking lot and picking out books. Several friends commented on still being able to remember that wonderful smell of books as they walked up the steps of the bookmobile. It’s just like the smell of a new car, you can’t really describe it, but it’s something you never forget.
This story, which ran previously in the Richmond News, is being reprinted to coinicide with the Friends of the Ray County Public Library book sale. It begins Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then continues Saturday, 9 to noon; Monday, 9 to 5; and Tuesday 9 to 3. The sale takes place in the library’s community room.