Memorial library serves as ministry
RED BAY – The Patrick Hill Memorial Library at Red Bay First Baptist Church has a special meaning for Bro. Larry Hill and his wife, Anita.
The renovated library, which includes a brightly organized main room and large work room in the church's Christian Life Center, was officially established eight years ago by the congregation as a way to honor the memory of the Hill's 27-year-old son, Patrick, who passed away in 2000.
"It really means a lot to me because Patrick had a ministry when he was alive," said Anita Hill, who shared a love for reading with her late son. "This is a continuation of that for me, and his ministry was that he was able to reach people other people weren't able to reach – he just had a God-given gift for that.
"The church members just wrapped their arms around this library, and it's such an honor."
Red Bay FBC is one of nine church libraries in the Franklin County Baptist Association of Church Librarians, which has been directed by Doris Hutcheson since 2002.
Hutcheson, a Memphis native who now resides in Belgreen, served as the volunteer librarian at Russellville First Baptist Church from 2000 to 2005 and has directed the Hill Library at Red Bay FBC since last June.
"I never met (Patrick), but people say he never met a stranger," Hutcheson said. "To me, it speaks volumes that people would want to remember him this way."
The library, with 1,500 items currently available, has experienced steadily increasing usage in the past eight months after Hutcheson increased the circulation, updated the processing and filing systems and created special monthly promotions.
"Everybody has been positive (about the changes), and it's been very exciting," Anita said. "And the kids just can't stay out of the library – they just love it, especially the pre-schoolers, who can't get enough of getting to come in and check out items.
"Doris has made it very accessible, and she's been really innovative by doing different things to make people want to come and use the library."
Hutcheson said promotions are a fun and effective way to boost patron participation.
"People are really using the library, especially after we started doing promotions last November with Peanut Butter Lovers Month," she said. "We started doing different ones each month, and this month we're having a popcorn and movie month with first, second and third-place prizes and each time people watch three videos, they will get a bag of popcorn."
Larry Hill, who has been pastor at Red Bay FBC since 1990, said a church library is a reliable source for appropriate material.
"Parents understand that everything in our library will be wholesome, and you can't say that about a secular library," said Larry, who plans to donate his extensive religious resource collection so that future pastors will have a local and affordable way to study for seminary. "Parents know that things are screened and they don't have to worry whether a book or movie is appropriate for their child."
The librarian association has set a goal this year to increase the availability of its libraries, according to Hutcheson.
"One of our goals this year is to get all of the church libraries (in Franklin County) to be open at least one day during the week," said Hutcheson, who sends out a library newsletter every six weeks to churches throughout northwest Alabama. "The key to being able to do that is having the personnel because so many of our churches have a church librarian who has a full-time job during the week."
Hutcheson believes libraries serve as ministries for churches and provide a variety of spiritual resources.
"The resources we have here can help people at any stage of their life or spiritual life," she said. "It doesn't matter what people are going through – raising a family, losing a loved one, having a baby, taking care of an elderly parent or trying to prevent a divorce – we have a book that can help them.
"But church libraries aren't really about the books or materials – it's about helping people and leading them to God."
Hutcheson said she became a librarian by chance and that any church no matter its size can have a library if there's someone willing to learn how to run it.
"I taught Latin in high school and then moved from Memphis to here," she said. "Russellville First Baptist Church asked me to be on the library committee to just recommend books because they knew I read a lot, but it turned out to be much more than that when the librarian there resigned.
"At the time, I didn't even know how to turn a computer on, but I started taking classes and went to Decatur Central Baptist to learn more. I really struggled for a while, but it's why I appreciate other people coming into this and not necessarily knowing what to do.
"The Lord has just worked it all out in a strange way for me … I've been there, and that's why I'm willing to help."
For more information about the Hill Library hours of operation or starting a church library, contact Hutcheson at (256) 356-9502. The library is open to both the public and congregation members during the week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday.