Library Foundation celebrates past, looks toward future

The Commercial Appeal

Jan. 6, 2014

The Memphis Library Foundation is taking a look back and ahead this week as it celebrates its 20th anniversary with a luncheon Thursday to honor longtime board members and a renewed push to complete its $1.5 million campaign for a digital teen learning lab at the Central Library.

“Libraries are one of the most important things in the city,” says longtime foundation board member Honey Scheidt. “There’s something for everybody; it’s the most democratic institution for rich or for poor.”

Scheidt will be honored at the luncheon at The Peabody, along with board members Leslie Dale, Dunbar Abston, Jack Belz, Mike Cody, John Paul Jones and the late Charles Leonard.

The foundation started with a group of concerned citizens who were rallied together by then-library system director Judith Drescher to raise funds for a new central library.

Dale, retired manager for Bellsouth’s West Tennessee region, recalls that “the old library on Peabody was just worn out. It was so heavily used and just a worn-out old building that had to be replaced.”

The foundation reached the campaign goal of $21.5 million and, with it, the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, a 330,000-square-foot citadel of glass and steel, opened in 2001. Situated in the heart of the city, the building — and the free access to information and services that libraries everywhere represent — symbolically bridged the affluent Chickasaw Gardens neighborhood with the struggling Binghamton community.

The foundation today supports all 18 branches of the library, which received $1.4 million from the city this fiscal year. In addition to yearly contributions, the board has identified four significant areas to focus on: author events, early literacy, history and teenage users. These have been addressed through increased author readings, systemwide computers for

early childhood literacy that was funded last year, and special attention to the Central Library’s Memphis & Shelby County Room, a vast reservoir of historical documents for the region.

“The board is amazing. These folks have raised an incredible amount of money to ensure that the city of Memphis had a world- class library that the city and county couldn’t afford alone,” said Memphis director of libraries Keenon McCloy.

A visitor to the Central Library will notice the colorful representation of trees welcoming guests into an open and airy children’s section furnished with appropriately sized chairs and tables. What has been missing, though, is a space for teenagers . . . (read  more)