Story by MANDY SHELTON
Photos by MITCHEL BARRETT
“Now, this is Friends of the Temple Library 101,” Carol Hodge said, laughing as she passed the circulation desk on her way to the Friends’ sorting room. After a quick elevator ride, she opened the door to a bustling, book-filled space in the library’s basement. The atmosphere of the Friends’ headquarters certainly suits the group’s name: “We play music, drink coffee, eat snacks, and we’re sort of a social group down here,” Hodge said. “It’s really nice.”
Spend much time in a public library and you will often find that it has Friends.
Friends of Public Library groups are nonprofits dedicated to supporting libraries in ways that go beyond the daily operations. In an age when many people carry the internet in their pockets and the latest best-seller is just a click away, Friends believe a vibrant library is vital to the health of the community.
The Friends of the Temple Public Library organized in 1965 and celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The group is best known for the used book sale, a semi-annual event that has raised over $500,000 for the library in the past 30 years. About 1,300 book buyers browse the library’s third-floor McLane Room, where the sale has been held since 2009.
“Early on we had it at the mall, but it just got so unwieldy,” Hodge said. “It’s been very successful up here because people know that this is the library and it benefits the library.”
In the months leading up to the sale, Hodge and other Friends volunteer in the sorting room, organizing about 50,000 books into 95 categories. “It gets really intense because we have all these books,” Hodge said. Donations are accepted year-round at the circulation desk and comprise over 90 percent of the book sale’s inventory.
In addition to overseeing preparation for the book sale, the president of the Friends leads the annual meeting and serves as ex-officio member of both the library board and the library foundation board. The president communicates with the committee chairs and calls meetings of the Friends board as needed.
“It’s just a real neat organization because it involves a lot of things and being the president of it is sort of coordinating the whole thing,” Hodge said. “It’s fun and it’s very rewarding.” She makes a conscious effort to avoid burnout among the Friends. “You could be consumed by this,” she said, “and that’s why we try to spread the work out among a 24-member board, so that nobody will have too much to do, including me.”
Born in Arkansas, raised in Kansas, and educated at Wichita State University, Hodge credits her undergraduate studies in sociology and anthropology with her love of libraries and the appreciation for differences that has helped her take the helm of an organization with 212 active members.
No matter the differences in age, culture, or school of thought, Hodge said she values exposure to many different people. “I’ve really applied that idea to social welfare and social justice,” she said. “One thing that’s really important to me is diversity, and I’m really trying in every aspect of my life to embrace diversity.”
“I think that in college when I was studying anthropology that just sort of planted the seeds of what I really believe about how we can make the world better,” Hodge said.
Hodge holds a master’s degree in urban studies and is a licensed social worker. “My main career over the last 30 years has been the state of Texas,” she said. “I worked for the long-term care regulatory program that inspected nursing homes and assisted livings.” Hodge retired from state employment in 2003, but continued working as a part-time social worker until 2014. “I really don’t call myself retired,” she said. “I call myself unemployed because I still have my license.”
Hodge has lived in Temple twice, her current residency beginning in 1998, and has served on the Friends board for 10 years, helping the local library reach out to the surrounding community.
“Carol wants all of Temple and Bell County to know what a wonderful library we have,” said Temple Library Director Leigh Gardner.
In addition to their program support and outreach initiatives, the Friends raise funds for library needs beyond those provided by the city. “The library budget for the current fiscal year is approximately $1.7 million,” Gardner said. “This covers personnel, library materials, program costs, as well as maintenance of the building. The Friends’ gifts for the last few years have been between $30,000 and $35,000 each year.”
“I have so enjoyed working with the Friends,” Gardner said. “They are so supportive of our programs and staff and are always interested in new programs.”
The Friends began sponsoring children’s reading programs in 1967. “The Friends co-sponsor many of our summer activities, including the Summer Reading Program,” Children’s Librarian Erin Gaines said. “We will have a Winter Reading Program in December, which the Friends of the Library sponsors each year. It is a rewards-based reading program to encourage young people to read over winter break.”
Such programs are open to all ages and, thanks to the Friends’ sponsorship, are completely free.
“It starts with growing up with reading,” said Jocylin Francis, a Friends board member who brings her three children to the events. She evokes the adage “learn to read, then read to learn” when explaining the Friends’ support of programs for Temple’s youngest readers. “We see it as an investment in the future of our community,” she said.
The Friends also promote the library-sponsored children’s programs, such as the Baby Bookworms early literacy program for infants and the Paws to Read therapy dog program. “Our fall children’s programs will resume Sept. 6,” Gaines said. Those programs include Toddler Story Time on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10:15 a.m., followed by Preschool Story Time at 11:15 a.m.