By Jack Gray
The Commerce Journal
The Commerce Public Library has an “open door policy.”
But in this case – to resurrect an old advertising slogan – simply keeping the door open is “Job One.” And that has not always been an easy task.
Located at 1210 Park Street at the east end of the Commerce business district, the library was established in 1954 and will be celebrating its 60th anniversary next year. In 1971 it moved into its current home in a Commerce historic site, the old U.S. Post Office building.
“We’re really excited about how far the library has come, but there’s still so much more that we could, should and want to do,” said Carolyn Trezevant, a former board president of the Friends of the Commerce Public Library that oversees the library’s operations. “Funding our operations has really become an issue in recent years.”
According to Interim library director Nan Clay, a former librarian for the Commerce Independent School District, the city of Commerce owns the building that houses the library. In addition to allowing Friends of the Library to utilize the building rent free, the city provides significant direct funding from its budget, including utility costs. Indirect support, such as facility maintenance, is provided as well.
In 2010 insufficient funding forced the library to cut services, curtail its hours of operation and reduce staff work hours. Just two years later, the state of the economy forced the city to scale back its direct funding of the library.
“Our current operating budget is about $103,000 a year,” Clay said. “That may sound like a lot of money to some people, but when you consider the broad range of services and other amenities the library provides, it’s pretty bare bones.”
The extensive services offered by the library are unique in a community the size of Commerce. They range from bound books, books on CD and DVDs to literacy classes, computer stations and free internet access to library patrons.
“Our local history archives date back to the 1800s and are really quite remarkable,” Trezevant noted.
While the library staff and volunteers are proud to occupy a Commerce landmark, the old post office building was constructed in 1917 and needs a significant facelift to bring it up to 21st century standards. That includes providing improved handicapped access to the facility.
City funding simply isn’t available to make that happen, points out current Friends of the Library president Mike Odom, an art instructor at Texas A&M University-Commerce.
In recognition of that fact, the library began expanding its efforts to raise awareness of the building’s declining condition by hosting a series of Town Hall Meetings in the spring of 2012. As an outcome of that initiative, several community members made donations that were designated to support the restoration project.
“We raised about $4,000 at the time,” Odom said. “We later used those funds to help underwrite a limited restoration of the building, starting with the main portico. The actual cost of the portico restoration was over $13,000.”
The beauty of the restored portico offers a striking contrast to the neglect of the remainder of the building.
“We are so appreciative to those who have made gifts toward the restoration,” Odom said, “but we have many ongoing operating needs as well. We are also grateful to community members who regularly support the library through donations, Friends memberships, memorials and fundraisers.”
“Every time our grandchildren visit, we take them to the library,” said Nancy McFarland, wife of former A&M-Commerce President Keith. “The library is just as important to kids growing up today as it is to the older generation. They love to go to the library, sit and look at the books and check them out. Despite the emphasis on electronic communication today, the library is anything but obsolete.”
“We need that library in town! Absolutely; we really do,” she concluded.
Staff, volunteers, and Board members urge those who are considering 2013 year-end gifts to include the Commerce Public Library in their planning. The library is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, so all gifts are fully tax deductible.
Everyone from Commerce and the surrounding area is invited to join in a celebration of the holidays and learn more about the library’s needs at a library open house from 5:30 to 7: p.m. on Dec. 10, Odom says.
The library also is in the midst of its annual book sale that will continue through January. Additional information about the library can be found online at CommercePublicLibrary.org.