Laura Beth Walker, Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library branch manager, joined the library
in the 1990s on the advice of a friend. “I graduated with an English degree, waited tables,
worked in a record store,” she says. When her friend told her about an opening at the library,
she applied for the job.
“I had never really even thought about it. It was an accident.” She smiles, adding, “But a great
Her favorite moments come from bringing joy to library patrons. “What I love most is when
somebody comes in and says, ‘That book you recommended to me, I loved it. Can you tell me
about another one?’ I love kids coming up to check out books and being so excited about it,”
she says. “I want to help everybody I can.”
It’s a story other library staff echo. Though some took a direct path through a library science
degree early on, others found their way to the library accidentally.
Kelli O’Reilly, a library assistant, has just returned from looking for a missing book. It’s a task
“The thrill of the hunt,” she says with a grin. “It’s kind of dorky, but I enjoy it, knowing that what I
do is going to make somebody else happy.”
Only a few years ago, O’Reilly stepped into the library world to fill a gap at her daughter’s school
in Florida. “When the librarian retired, the school just didn’t have the funds to hire a new librarian
to run the library,” she says. “I couldn’t stand kids not having books. That’s really what it was. I
thought, ‘Okay, I’m either going to have to step in and do it, or these kids aren’t going to have
It was a perfect fit. A former teacher, she gets to see the light-bulb moments when kids find
confidence with reading. “It’s pretty magical,” she says.
Not Just Books
Though some may think of the library as simply a literary resource, the Lafayette County Library
offers so much more: genealogy records, community rooms, job search support and more.
“We do a lot for the community that’s not just books,” Library Assistant II Chris Panco-Pranger
explains. “My favorite thing to do is help people at the computers—helping patrons write
résumés, cover letters, figure out tech questions.”
Pretty frequently he hears back from the people he helped search for jobs. Just a few weeks
prior, Panco-Pranger helped a man write his first résumé, and by the time the man left the
library, he had a job offer. “I just love that,” he says. “I think we’re the only people in the
community doing that nowadays.”
Many patrons use the computers to access WiFi service, too. “If you have a library card, you
can use the computers,” says Walker. The WiFi even reaches outside–an invaluable resource
during Covid-19. “When we couldn’t let people in, we’d encourage them to come to the parking
lot to use the WiFi.”
A Community Hub
Last winter, the library added door counters to learn how many people pass through their doors.
What they learned was amazing. From November to May, more than 40,000 people passed
through the library doors. In a county like Lafayette, the library serves a wide range of people,
from rural farm residents to college professors.
“We do a lot of outreach to make sure we’re reaching people,” says Walker, “because we serve
everybody. That’s what’s wonderful about the library—we’re open to everybody.”
Pasco-Pranger agrees. “One of the gratifying things about working in the library is you often see
people that you would not otherwise. You really get to see Lafayette County in a much deeper
As much as the library gives back to the community, the library receives support, too. The
Friends of First Regional Library provide financial and volunteer assistance. Walker credits
Lafayette County’s funding as a truly invaluable resource. Some of the library’s patrons have
become close with the staff, too, even bringing them gifts at the holidays.
“We do have several patrons who—we’re their family,” says O’Reilly. “It’s special when you can
be a family for somebody who doesn’t have that person.”
A Program For Everyone
The program calendar offers a handful of events each day for different ages. Adults gather after
work to make goat cheese or build a succulent garden while families can watch movies together
in the cool auditorium during summer nights.
The magnum opus may be the youth programs, helmed by Youth Services Librarian Ally
Watkins. The most popular program is Pokèmon Playdate, in which kids build social
connections and skills as they chat about Pokèmon. The other programs are just as worthwhile,
running the gamut of activities from crafts and zine-making to yoga and water games.
On this day, kids and their parents packed into a youth program geared towards animal
education, preservation and care. As eager kids looked on, presenter Andi Lehman carefully
brought out animal after animal—some exotic, others regional. Lehman reminded the audience
to be curious, not judgmental of all animals. After the program, kids held the animals with
Teen volunteers dotted around the bustling auditorium, reminding kids to sanitize their hands or
pointing out an empty chair for them to settle into.
“We use teen volunteers in the summer,” Walker explained. “One of the cool things about them
is that once they see what we do, they’ll tell their friends, ‘Did you know the library has movies?
Did you know they have a teen room?’”
Walker gestured towards the teen room, a space near the back of the first floor with computers
and booths to sit in. “We’ll do a lot of programs there in the school year: craft programs, pizza
nights. If you’re going to have teens after school, you have to feed them,” Walker laughs. “It’s
their own special place. It’s wall-to-wall after school. We love it.”
The Future of the Library
With technology’s advancement and more people turning to e-readers, one might wonder what
the future of libraries looks like. To that, Walker gives a passing glance to the returned book
section: shelves and shelves crammed with books. The appeal of the physical book, it seems, is
not going anywhere.
As for other ways the library might evolve, Panco-Pranger sees an emphasis on community
gathering. “I see a move towards the library being a meeting place for the community, a place
for everyone to come together.” A greater focus on children and digital spaces appears to be in
the cards as well.
Looking around the library at nearly any given time, it’s clear the future is unfolding—though
books are surely still king.
“People sometimes think, ‘Oh, libraries are so archaic,’” O’Reilly says. “But really, books are
thriving. It’s good to see parents come in with their kids to know those memories are being
Walker, who’s hopeful for the library’s future, is grateful to work in the place she started working
for by accident all those years ago.
“This is a really great town to run a library in. It’s really fulfilling. I love serving my community,
and I go home really happy at the end of the day.”