In Celebration of the Public Library

By: Dr. Peaches Henry

I am relieved that the Llano County (Texas) commissioners kept their library system open and returned banned books to the library shelves.  Yet, I am dismayed that Missouri’s House voted to cut all funding for libraries in its version of the state’s annual budget, because the American Civil Liberties Union, the Missouri Association of School Librarians, and the Missouri Library Association are suing the state over the censorship of some books from school libraries across the state.  I do not intend to litigate the practice of banning books here.  [To get my view on that, see my 1992 essay “The Struggle for Tolerance: Race and Censorship in Huckleberry Finn.”]  Instead, during National Library Week (April 23-29), I want to celebrate the Waco McLennan County Library for the profound way it touches the lives of Wacoans.  

Our library provides essential services to children, families, individuals, and the community at large.  A truly remarkable place, the public library provides safe, accessible, one hundred percent free educational resources to everyone.  It pools local resources like educational offerings, job training, and computer or internet access and puts them all in one place for use by the whole community.  Whether you are a family looking for a fun story time, an immigrant looking for language help, a student working on a History Fair project, a person needing help on their taxes, or a homeless person looking for a place to cool off, you can find them all at the library—a place that has undergone transformation that makes it an altogether different place from the one previous generations enjoyed. 

Indeed, the modern public library that serves Waco McLennan County is not your grandparents’ library.  These days, there is more to the story when it comes to the library which provides services far beyond the traditional task of checking books in and out.  Even that has been transformed.  Patrons can access ebooks, emagazines, and audiobooks in the CloudLibrary and read them anywhere.  They can also check out a mind-boggling range of “Special Items” which include blood pressure kits, sensory backpacks for specials needs children, disc golf kits, discovery boxes, and puppet kits.  Special Items educational kits include flash cards, literacy kits for preschoolers, and STEAM kits for upper-elementary children.  Among the most prized of the special items are the free family passes to local museums and sites including the Mayborn Museum, Cameron Park Zoo, and the Dr. Pepper Museum to name a few.  The library’s Special Items collections offer free access to materials that many families cannot afford to purchase.  

The library also boasts numerous, varied children’s programs aimed all ages.  Everything from themed storytimes (money smart, STEAM, or super hero) to painting to a Minecraft and Roblox club to a look behind-the-scenes tour of the library to summer reading programs is available to children.  As a member of the Library Commission, I was delighted to judge the library’s inaugural Edible Book Festival on April Fool’s Day.

In addition to catering to children, the library also offers essential support to adult Wacoans.  It maintains partnerships with local entities which deliver needed services.  The Heart of Texas Goodwill, for instance, holds computer skills and financial literary classes at the library.  The Heart of Texas Workforce Solutions gives free one-on-one job skills training.  The library hosts books clubs such as Books & Brew or the Mystery Book Club.  It sponsors adult programs such as healthy crock pot cooking, an adult anime and manga club, and free tax preparation not to mention the work of the Genealogy Center.  

The modern Waco McLennan County Library is a completely different place from the old Palestine Carnegie Library that I used to walk to as a child.  Yet, in the most meaningful way, it  remains the same iconic institution that I grew up with.  The library is still the community hub that connects people to information, offers essential services and resources, brings people together, encourages lifelong learning, provides safe havens for children and adults, helps build healthy communities, and transports individuals around the world and to other worlds.  Like libraries around the state and nation, our local library is an important public institution that we must support and protect now more than ever.

Dr. Peaches Henry is a member of the Waco McLennan County Library Advisory Commission.

Fall into a good book!

By Becca Muncy

While any book lover will tell you that reading is a year-round activity, there’s something special about getting caught up in a new book during the fall. The cooler temperatures, the longer nights – it makes me want to hibernate under a cozy blanket by a roaring fire (even if a fireplace isn’t the most practical thing in a Texas house).

Sarah Freeland, branch manager of the Waco-McLennan County Central Library, says there are two types of fall readers: those who want to scare themselves with spooky horror stories, and those who just want to curl up with cozy, comforting books. She says she falls more into the latter group, favoring “golden-age” mysteries by Agatha Christie and Dorthory Sayer and childhood classics like the Harry Potter series.

Similarly, Alison Frenzel, co-owner of Fabled Bookshop & Cafe in downtown Waco, says she prefers historical fiction (like A Most English Princess by Clare McHugh), classics (like Anne of Green Gables or Wuthering Heights), or just a good page-turner in lieu of truly scary stories. But for those who want to dip their toes into a bit of spookiness, Freeland recommends works by Stepehen King (like It), Shirley Jackson (such as The Haunting of Hill House or We Have Always Lived in the Castle), and Edgar Allen Poe. And Frenzel suggests checking out Home Before Dark by Riley Sager or Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella, which were both released earlier this summer.

At the library, Freeland says that seasonal picture and non-fiction children’s books became especially popular as the weather changes, particularly books like Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf and Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn, which teach children about the transition from summer to fall. She says that those books remain popular year after year as parents check them out to help their kids “understand what’s going on in the natural world.” And at Fabled, Frenzel says the spooky books that crowd the display table at the front of the store, the “books that feel creepy, that feel mysterious,” are a big hit during this season.

Some of the best books are released in the fall months. Publishers typically publish books that they know will perform well during September, October, and November, in anticipation of the Christmas shopping season. If a great book comes out in the fall, chances are someone will read it and then buy it as a gift for a friend or family member. So if you stop by a bookstore or library in the next few weeks, you’ve got a lot of good options! Here are some soon-to-be published and recently released books that Freeland and Frenzel are excited about:

  • Anxious People by Fredrick Backman (published September 8)
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (published October 6)
  • The Searcher by Tana French (Chicago cop thriller, published 10/6)
  • A Time for Mercy by John Grisham (the sequel to A Time to Kill, published October 13)
  • Just Like You by Nick Hornby (out 10/31)
  • What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer (Baer’s poetry debut, out November 10)
  • Promised Land by Barack Obama (Obama’s memoir, out November 17. This book is so highly anticipated that the Booker Prize rescheduled its awards ceremony so this book could be included in the running)

If you’re looking for a new release to spice up your November book club, Frenzel suggests We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper. Frenzel says this book, which follows an unsolved murder msytery at Harvard, would be a good choice for a book club because it’s a good conversation starter. She says, “It was a fascinating book, I read it in probably two days… several of our staff members read it and we all had different opinions about what we thought about it.” Keep the Dead Close comes out on November 10.

If you’re looking for more recommendations, check out the library’s “discovery boxes” and “book bundles,” which launch in November. The discovery boxes, curated by Waco librarians, are filled with resources (books, DVDs, etc) about a certain topic or interest, and are a great way to get immersed in a new hobby or learn about a new subject. Book bundles are also a great way to discover new books. Pick a genre and let a librarian surprise you with 5 books from that genre.

Hopefully, these recommendations have inspired you to pick up something new the next time you’re shopping for books, to dive into some spooky stories now that Halloween is just around the corner, or to just rediscover the joy of reading. So the only thing to do now is grab a hot drink, get cozy, and relax with a great new book! Happy fall, everyone!

Becca Muncy is an Act Locally intern from Dallas. She is studying professional writing at Baylor University and is completing her senior year.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected]for more information.

Read, Waco, Read!

By James Karney, Director of the Waco-McLennan County Library

The end of the school year is in sight. Summer is upon us: a time of lemonade, vacation trips, summer camps, and sleeping late. But for far too many children and teens, it’s also a time when they close up their books and do not read.

I’d like to challenge the people of Waco this summer to Read, Waco, Read!

  • Read for fun or read for information.
  • Read a book, read a magazine, read a newspaper. As long as the topic interests you, you’ll enjoy it.
  • Just as exercise keeps your body physically fit, reading keeps your mind mentally fit.
  • Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, caregivers – you have a special charge, read to be an example to the children in your life. If they see you reading, you may find them reading.

A number of academic studies over the past 35 years have found that children who participate in summer reading programs maintain their reading skills, need less reinstruction at the beginning of the school year and perform at a higher level on standardized tests compared to students who do not participate in summer reading programs.  In a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, Frank Bruni lamented the increasing number of children and teenagers who never read for pleasure – currently 22% of 13 year-olds up from 8% of 13 year-olds just twenty years ago.

1934 certificateReading is the key skill that everyone needs to function in society. Reading gives you the ability to communicate, learn, and grow – regardless of your age. For children, it is most important for them to develop the skill and habit of regular reading that they will need for secondary school, post-secondary education and to become lifelong learners and readers.

For nearly 90 years the Waco library has offered a summer reading program for children and in 2014 the Waco-McLennan County Library will offer summer reading clubs for all ages.

  • Fizz Boom READ! for children
  • Spark a Reaction for teens and tweens
  • Literary Elements for adults.

spark a reactionThe Children’s and Teen/Tween clubs have a science theme that fits into the emphasis being placed on STEM education in schools. Many of the summer programs and activities planned for these age groups have a science or technology component. To learn more about our summer programs visit the library’s website at,

Sign-up for summer reading clubs begins at all libraries on Monday, June 2, and on Saturday, June 7 the Library will host a Family Fun Day from 1-4pm at the Central Library, 1717 Austin Ave. to kick-off our summer programs. Zooniversity will present a live animal program at 1:30pm and there will be fun for all ages including science experiment stations in the courtyard, teens constructing a 5 foot tall paper rollercoaster, snow cones, crafts and face painting.

fizz boom readDuring June and July, support from the Friends of the Library helps provide for weekly Summer Showcase programming programs featuring guest performers at each library:

  • Tuesday, East Waco at 9:30am and 10:30am
  • Wednesday, West Waco at 10:30am and 1:30pm
  • Thursday, Central at 10:30am and 1:30pm
  • Friday, South Waco at 10:30am and 1:30pm

Family Night programming allows children and parents to attend summer showcase programming in the evening:

  • Central Library – Tuesdays, June 17, 24 and July 1 at 7pm
  • West Waco Library – Thursdays, July 10, 17, 24 and 31 at 7pm

The Angel Paws Reading Buddies program returns for another summer and allows children to practice their reading skills by reading to a furry, four-legged friend. These specially trained animal therapy dogs are great listeners who provide encouragement to reluctant and struggling readers while boosting their self-esteem during a 20 minute reading/craft session.  Angel Paws will be at the Central Library on Monday evenings from 6:30-8pm and Wednesday mornings from 10:30am-12:30pm. Contact Vivian Rutherford at 254-750-5952 to schedule a 20 minute session.

For teens and tweens, programs will take place on Tuesday afternoons and Saturday afternoons and will include a variety of hands on science and craft programs. And zombies too!

This past week saw the passing of author and poet Maya Angelou. Of her many, many notable quotes, perhaps my favorite relating to libraries was one during a college commencement address while exhorting the graduates to read voraciously and to never stop learning she stated, “My encouragement to you is to go tomorrow to the library.“

This summer come to the library and – Read, Waco, Read!

James KarneyThis Act Locally Waco blog post is by James Karney. James has worked in a library since his sophomore year in high school and is the Director of the Waco-McLennan County Library.   He enjoys reading biographies, history, and spy/espionage novels. He has been married to the super amazing and talented Anita Karney for 20 years and their son Jamie will complete his sophomore year of high school on Friday – yikes!

If you would like to write a post for the Act Locally Waco blog, please contact Ashley Thornton by email at [email protected] .