LH Public Library celebrates 10 years

By KATE LUDLOW

Librarian Sandy Schultz reminices about the creation of the Liberty Hill Library District while combing through scrapbooks.
(Photo by Kate Ludlow)

The Liberty Hill Public Library celebrates its 10th anniversary this month. Since its opening in 2002, the library has stood as an example of the Liberty Hill spirit, and the ability to build something great out of nothing.

“Our slogan is ‘The Heart of the Hill,’” says Library Director and Librarian Sandy Schultz. “That’s our focus. We do more than loan books. We love getting calls from people and being able to help them. We got a call from a lady, she and her family were about to buy out here. She said, ‘Tell me all about it, what are the sports, what goes on.’ That was a great call.”

The library does offer more to the community than books. There are six computers available to people who need to borrow one for a job search or to send emails to relatives. Wireless internet is available around-the-clock, a treat for those who are unable to get internet access at home.

Each day, Ms. Schultz, along with April Hoffman, who was hired in July 2010 as a library assistant, work to expand the services available to library members.

“When I started, there were about 3,000 members. A lot of that was because there hadn’t been full-time staff, and they just didn’t have the time to promote the library. We did a big membership drive, and in a year, we had nearly doubled that,” Ms. Schultz said.

The idea for Liberty Hill’s first public library came about in 1999. Gary Henley, one of the library Board of Trustees’ first members, who still holds that position today, moved here in 2000 and started hearing the talk, as well as a hearty dose of the gossip.

“At the time, there were three papers, two Chambers, and two library groups. I steered clear of the reasons why, but that is what we had,” he said. In 1999, the city incorporated and the growing pains were massive.

In that time, two groups started. The Friends of the Library and the Greater Chamber Liberty Hill Library Fund. The Liberty Hill Independent noted at the time that neither group knew of the other when each was started. Both groups first worked on a potential location.

Among the potential locations were the old Church of Christ building located on RR 1869, the land that is now City Park, and several buildings on the downtown strip. An offer was even made of an old mobile home from a lot in Killeen, but it was deemed too small to hold shelving and books.

Eventually, the two groups were whittled into one.

“The Friends of the Library group got the charter, they (the Greater Liberty Hill Library Group) acquiesced and we all decided to work alongside each other,” said Henley.

The Lion’s Foundation Park Board made an offer in 2001 that would give the library its home. They  donated land within Foundation Park at a rate of $1 per year for 10 years.

“Then the work began,” says Mr. Henley. “We started pulling the community back together. We went all over town, all over everywhere. We raised about $45,000 to help with construction costs. We received donations from Pedernales Electric Company, HEB, and The Tocker Foundation. Some of the donations were concrete, steel, windows, A/C units, things that we didn’t have to purchase. A lot of the labor was donated. We got it framed, and the metal skin on for nothing. When it was built, we hadn’t used all that cash, so we had it for operations.”

The Tocker Foundation exists solely to help rural libraries thrive.

“They donated the original shelving. We eventually outgrew that, and to make better use of space, had to purchase more,” said Ms. Schulz. “We donated it to Hutto, so that they could start their library, so it’s still out there.”

In 2002, a possible tax was added to the ballot, that would give the library 0.025 percent of the city’s $0.825 sales tax. That measure passed 1,248 for to 660 against. Recently, a break-in at the library took that part of the library’s history.

“Someone broke-in and stole our safe. Well, the only thing that was in it were the election ballots from that year,” said Ms. Schultz.

While construction was being completed on the library, volunteers began searching wide and far for books. After buying lots of other library materials, combing book sales, and receiving donations, the group amassed nearly 15,000 books.

“They were brought in by the trailer,” said Henley.  “We had them stored in barns and storage sheds.” When construction was complete, they moved the books into the building, and began the tedious process of sorting them.

“They had to cull, sort, shelve, and throw out duplicates. They had to throw out the ones that were too old or too trashy,” said Henley. “Not from an ethics standard, of course, the library can’t dictate that, but ones that were in bad shape. They shelved all the materials and it looked good.”

In November 2002, the library opened for business. A ceremony was held, featuring then-County Commissioner Greg Boatright and Pam Tuohy, Co-ordinator for the Central Texas Library System as keynote speakers. In one of the many scrapbooks the library has of its beginnings, a picture exists of the first patron, though no name accompanies it. In the photo, a blonde woman holds a small baby, both smiling into the camera. Shelves appear half full.

“I look at these photos and I see small children in them, and now they bring their kids into the library,” said Ms. Schultz.

Every now and then, she stops and points out another face, some still with us, some have moved or passed on. It serves to remind those who look through them how much the library’s history is really the city’s history.

Pam Wright served as the library’s first operator. Though she did not have a Master’s Degree in Library Science, she catalogued, checked out books, and functioned as a librarian would. She left in 2006, and the library hired Lynda McClain as the library’s Director, and Ms. Schultz as a part-time library assistant. While there, Ms. Schultz worked toward her Master’s Degree in Library Science through a grant with Texas Women’s University. She took distance learning courses so she could continue working at the library, and in June 2009, took over as Director and Librarian.

Signs of the library’s growth are everywhere.

“We have a picture of the first computer user. Everyone is crowded around like it is the most amazing thing,” said Ms. Schultz.

Now, grandparents regularly come in to log into Facebook to see pictures of their grandkids. Gone are the bulky, white machines of the day. They’ve been replaced by sleeker models.

“When I started, there were about 10 DVD’s. At the end of the year, I went and bought another 10. Now we have about 1,200 DVD’s,” she said.

The library offers Wednesday Storytime for the kids, as well as a monthly book club for adults. Ms. Schultz also has a mobile storytime program where she goes to local preschools and reads stories to the children there. She said volunteers are needed for the program.

Through the library’s website, visitors can find links to most major organizations, including schools, as well as city government, fire department, police department and the newspaper.

Though sales tax throughout the city is low, and that has affected the library’s budget, plans are still being tossed around for a possible expansion of the library.

“We want to expand the library, and add a museum to it as well. Along with that, we’re hoping to add a meeting space that could be used by anybody. There are no specs right now, we only have a dream.”

Currently, planning is underway for this spring’s Sculpture Garden Art Festival, which will promote and raise funds to help maintain, as well as move the Sculpture Garden, currently at Liberty Hill Junior High, into Foundation Park.  The festival will also be used to raise funds for the museum.

“We work so closely with the Foundation Park Board, that we just started attending each other’s meetings. We couldn’t have done this without them, and we continue to rely on them,” said Ms. Schultz.

The library is holding a 10th Anniversary reception from 1-3 p.m. today (Thursday) and the public is invited.