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Monday, May 2, 2016

'Service' defines library director

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rita Allen in one of her favorite places -- surrounded by books at Argie Cooper Public Library.
(T-G Photo by Jim Davis) [Order this photo]
Bedford County is still welcoming Rita Allen as the new director of Argie Cooper Public Library, but she's no stranger to many.

As a resident of the Normandy area for eight years, she is familiar with the county's people and their needs.

She is also no stranger to librarianship, having worked both as a reference librarian -- finding all the answers long before Google -- and a library director for more than 30 years.

Can't stay away

Allen retired from public service as a librarian in Montana prior to her move to Tennessee, but her long-term love affair with the library sent her back to the bookshelves as the director of Cannon County Libraries shortly after settling in Normandy.

"What can I say?" she quips light-heartedly. "I love the library."

Allen's library love began with her very first library experience.

"My first library was a bookmobile. It came to my elementary school, and I remember checking out my first library book from a librarian, Mrs. Inez Harrig, who later became one of my mentors.

"I fell in love with the library and librarianship early. As a teen, I would volunteer to organize and run the classroom libraries. It truly is a love of mine."

Family time

For Allen, seeing the library bring families together is the best aspect of her job.

"One of the most special things is watching the library become a family possession.

"Children who have grown up with story-time and other events at the library will, years later, bring their own children in and introduce you to them. It becomes a family heirloom of sorts that they pass down," Allen says.

"Although the equipment may change in the library as it becomes more updated and modernized, the feeling of the patrons' ownership of the library does not change."

A listening ear

Allen very much wishes to expand users' views and voices and wants Argie Cooper to be a "patron driven" library.

"Come, have a good time -- or tell me why you didn't. If you had a good time, tell your friends and loved ones. Make the library your own. If there are things you think we ought to have let me know. This is your library, and we are here to serve you."

It is that specialized service and care that Allen believes will keep libraries both vibrant and vital in this digital age.

"Many may feel that, in the digital age, there is no longer a need for the library, but there most definitely is. We see it every day," Allen says.

Treasure trove

Argie Cooper boasts over 45,000 items that users can check out, 13 computers, free wi-fi, free digital downloads of ebooks and audiobooks, story-time events, computer classes, and a bookmobile that travels to Bell Buckle and Wartrace.

The library is bustling, but Allen wishes that more people in Bedford County knew how much is available at no cost.

"Nowhere else can you go and get use of a computer, someone to help your kids learn to research, or help you find a book covering a topic that excites you, genealogy resources, community events, and more all for free," she says.

More visitors are increasingly using Argie Cooper's free internet and computers to locate job opportunities and fill out job applications, Allen says.

Net work

In January alone, more than 1,000 people checked out the computers for personal use. Argie Cooper offers computer classes for people to become familiar with computers and the internet.

All librarians can assist the public with navigating the Tennessee Electronic Library where not only are there several research opportunities, but there are also genealogy links, foreign language lessons, educational games for children, and career navigation tools including computer program tutorials.

Argie Cooper is definitely more than just books, and Allen says public is becoming aware of this. Bedford County has always had loyal library supporters, and Allen says their involvement has helped spread the word to the community at large about what a valuable tool the library is.

Life changer

"Individuals are free to use their library to enhance their lives in ways of their own choosing," Allen says. "I think it would be great if we could say that everyone in Bedford County that is school age or older had a library card. I would love to see 100 percent membership."

Allen's goal may be lofty but she's aiming to reach it -- one digital download, one research question, one event, one online job application, one book checked out, and one person at a time.