By John Thomas, Friend of the W.G. Rhea Public Library and Bookstore Manager
On June 1, 1902, the Friends of Reading established a fund to finance a library in Paris, Tennessee. The $1000 was donated by E. W. Grove a local philanthropist who donated money in 1906 to build the first High School for Paris, Tennessee citizens. On January 9, 1905, he donated $250 cash for the Paris Library Association. The local Sunday Schools of the Presbyterian, Christian, Methodist and Baptist Churches donated collections to fund the buying of books, the building of shelves and other expenses. Mrs. W. W. Farabough was the first volunteer to donate her time to the development of a library within the city. She visited the Cossitt Library at her own expense where she learned how to catalog books. She later taught Sue Fox who became the first librarian at $8 per month.
The Library started in the basement of the courthouse and moved into City Hall in 1906. It was located on the second floor and would stay in this location until 1959 when it moved into the new City Hall on Caldwell. It was in a small section on the North side and it remained at this location until Dr. W. G. Rhea donated the corner lot at Caldwell and West Washington. He also started a trust fund to fund the library in the future. The new library was dedicated on April 8, 1979 in a ribbon cutting ceremony that included Mrs. Georgia Krider Boice, the oldest living librarian at that time. The library was expanded in 1991 to include genealogy and children’s rooms, new restrooms and meeting rooms.
On April 8, 1969, a chapter of the Friends of the Library was organized to encourage the gifts of books, papers, magazines and other items to enhance the library. It also was organized to stimulate bequests, endowments, participation in memorial book funds, organize story hours, book reviews, and to contribute supplies and other needed items. The Friends adopted bylaws and a Charter establishing the organization as a non-profit corporation.
On December 4, 1969 the first book sale was established in the library lobby. The books cost $.25 and $67 was raised in the first year. In 1992 Mrs. Margret McMillen became the book sale manager and increased the overall sale of books every year by about $1,000. The final sale under her leadership generated about $8,000. On January 16, 2001, due to the constant donations which amounted to about 27,000 per year, a bookstore was opened Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of each week. It is housed in an old meeting room in the library. The old restrooms were gutted and they became the Friends office and a work/storage room respectfully. On the first day of business, $456 was raised for the Friends and the Library. In total as of today the bookstore has raised over $225,000 for the library. This has paid for books, VHS tapes, books on tape, DVDs, funded the summer reading program, bought computers, furniture and other equipment. It has brought this library to its minimum state requirement and become the envy of the local libraries in surrounding counties.
In 2009, the library had a total of 82,116 materials owned by the local community and the state. These include books, audio books, microfilms, video materials and other materials. The total circulation for 2009 was 101,057. The total attendance for all programs was 8,963 persons.
Now, many of you may wonder, “Why is this so outstanding?” In fact, the town of Paris consists of only 10,000 individuals and the entire county has a population of only 20,000. In other words, we receive donations equal to the population of the entire community. We also raise over $30,000 per year also equal to the population of the county. We are a success because of a dedicated group of volunteers, a community dedicated to assisting the library and the service this organization supplies to the local community. We are a proud example of volunteers from the Volunteer State.
For more information, please visit http://www.rheapubliclibrary.com.
John Thomas has been a patron of the Paris Henry County/ W. G. Rhea Public Library since he was a child in the 1950s and a member of the Friends Organization there for the past ten years. You can reach him at (731) 642-5341.