The Bedias Library and Museum celebrated its 10th anniversary October 2019. Defying the odds and functioning on a shoestring budget, the library is one of few its size still operating.
Pre-Covid-19, it was open three afternoons a week and offered a children’s story and craft time, science experiments, ice cream socials to wrap up the summer reading programs and adults could learn computer skills.
Bedias Librarian Karen Shiver said when Covid “shut down the world,” the schools closed without notice with many children on spring break who didn’t have the opportunity to get their textbooks. In response, she took the library to the local Dollar General parking lot and gave away 145 books in five hours, and soon Shiver was delivering giveaway books directly to the doorsteps of Grimes County children.
Shiver’s enthusiasm and commitment to reading is exceeded only by her credentials. She taught prekindergarten, and first and second grades before becoming a Reading Interventionist and has a master’s degree in Library and Information Science with Certificates in Children’s Librarianship, Public Librarianship and Storytelling.
As a “weekender,” Shiver volunteered her Saturdays at the library until 2017 when she retired after 27 years with the Alief Independent School District and became a fulltime resident.
Her passion for book giveaways began during her first year as a librarian at a school with approximately 1,200 students, of which 800 didn’t have money to buy a book at the Book Fair.
She said, “I started with stuff I owned and put it in a box under the table. If you showed up with whatever spare change you dug out of the couch, you could buy a book. I didn’t care if it was three pennies or a quarter… and every kid went home with a book.”
When Covid-19 shut the Bedias Library’s doors in March, Shiver took her giveaway idea mobile. Her twice-monthly delivery area includes 45-46 families in Bedias, Iola, Shiro, Singleton, North Zulch, Madisonville and the back roads of Grimes County to the Walker County line. Her giveaway bags, one for each child in the family, include a mix of fiction, nonfiction, science, social studies, religion and 4,197 books have been given away since March. Shiver also provides diverse biographies and multicultural books as well as Spanish books for bilingual children.
She said, “I miss the interaction at the library but one thing I’ve discovered as I’m driving 150 miles roundtrip to deliver books, there are a lot of people who can’t get to the library and a lot of kids live in homes without reliable transportation or the transportation is with the person at work.”
Rural libraries in crisis
One might describe the library’s 14,435 media inventory as one giant love offering. According to Shiver, every new and used book, DVD, CD, and audio book has been donated and that includes most of the shelving and all of the computers. The library has many book benefactors from Bedias and surrounding communities such as the Cactus Trading Post, Dave Woodruff, Allen Academy, former teachers, and folks who wish to remain anonymous. They’ve provided current and popular reading materials, even paying the fee to be a Little Free Library which is located on the porch. Loyal library patrons are quick to donate a book missing from a series.
Of the donated items, books that are good for the library stay with the library while others become part of the giveaway program.
With only a small group of volunteers, there hasn’t been a major fundraiser in several years and the library’s only funding source has been $5,000 annually from Grimes County Commissioners Court.
Shiver said, “We report to the state library system but every year they’ve increased the financial requirement to be an accredited library. For serving Grimes County, I believe they require us to have $15,000 in guaranteed income. At this stage of the game, we’ll not be an accredited library, but we are listed as a public library.”
She continued, “That means we’re not eligible for the really inexpensive databases that accredited libraries can get. It’s like you’re too poor to get the financial help that’s part of the state library system.”
Shiver added, “I used to pull up the annual reports and compare us to other tiny libraries. The first couple of years there were five libraries that I compared. All of those are gone. So, over the years I shifted and started comparing us to different little libraries. Over the last 10 years, only one of those is still standing.”
The library’s greatest need is money. Utility and electrical issues have prompted Facebook fundraisers to ‘Keep the Lights On!’ Shiver trained library volunteer Colin Elliott to catalog items but there are no funds to issue library cards or follow up on unreturned books and their 10-year old computer technology is outdated.
She said, “It’s been real touch and go.”
As for book needs, Shiver said, “We need clean and newer books, but we need people to use the library. It’s here to be used.”
Donations may be mailed to Bedias Library and Museum, P.O. Box 576, Bedias, Texas 77831. Follow library events on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Bedias Library.home