Rita Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rita Howell

Librarian leaves legacy as friend to local teens

First Regional Library took a leap of faith when they hired Jennifer Hall as the head librarian for the Batesville branch in 2008. That’s what Jennifer said last week when I paid her a visit to congratulate her on an upcoming career move — to California — and to express my own selfish wish that she’d stayed here.

Jennifer, a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., had graduated from the University of Alabama with a master’s degree in library science in May that year. In June she came to work at the Batesville Public Library.

“I’d never worked in a library before,” she laughed. “I’d never been in a supervisory position, except for a very limited experience at a Home Depot for about six months.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

She jumped into a busy summer program with a staff of ten at the time.

During the summer the staff had warned her about “Tuesdays” when school is in session.

In the South Panola School District, students are dismissed after lunch on Tuesdays to allow for teacher training. For teens and tweens with an extra hour or so to kill on Tuesdays, the library became a gathering spot. It’s within walking distance of the schools and it is a public space.

Over the years security guards were hired and attempts were made to enforce library rules to maintain order for all the patrons, especially during the weekly influx of young people.

Jennifer brought in a fresh idea: be friendly to the kids.

Her initial approach –smile and chat with the young Tuesday patrons– eventually led to establishment of what Jennifer calls the “game room.” It’s actually the large community meeting room, but on Tuesdays it becomes a space where the students can visit with each other, talk on their cellphones, play games, and (gasp) eat snacks they bring.

Jennifer found willing partners in the Friends of the Library who purchased a selection of board games for the kids.

She looked for ways to attract teens and maintain interest in reading and productive activities. She organized craft sessions, a martial arts demonstration, and a poetry program that had all the participants eager to share what they’d written. There were special movie screenings just for the teenagers.

When the library’s summer program for 2009 arrived, Jennifer included activities  for teens in what had traditionally been a children’s program.

Last summer Jennifer organized a weekly session patterned after the TV game show “Minute to Win It.” After competing in wacky contests like fanning the air to move a raw egg across the floor or snatching all the tissues out of a box of Kleenex, a winner was crowned and awarded a big box of new books.

Adults have not been neglected during Jennifer’s tenure in Batesville.

She’s encouraged the establishment of two book clubs. One, “Chocolate and Chic Lit,” is obviously for women, and the other, the Batesville Book Club, is open to anyone. The clubs meet monthly and library staff say they’ll continue with these groups.

Miss Doris will continue to entertain pre-schoolers with a weekly story time.

Patrons will still find knowledgeable staff to help them find what they need.

Jennifer, who is moving to Fair Oaks, Calif.  to take the position of teen/young adult librarian in a public library in a suburb of Sacramento, doesn’t know who will be taking her place as head librarian here.

 “I hope they like teenagers,” she said.

I do, too.