Stephanie Hermann 'blessed' in job as Union Library director

by Pat Kenney
Journal Correspondent

A book that she almost didn't read spoke to an unformed sense of service that had not quite "jelled" in her mind, and led Stephanie Antley Herrmann to respond to an employment announcement for which she got no response, causing her to assume she was not a candidate. But it did "jell," she got the job, and now is happy living her "dream job."

The director of the Union Parish Library is Mrs. Stephanie Antley Herrmann. A regular patron of the Library, this writer, and the community, consider themselves indeed lucky to have this talented and dedicated resident in our midst. Stephanie declares she is grateful to be living her dream right here among us.

How she came to be here is an amazing saga of faith and longing fulfilled. She was born and raised in Union Parish and her parents still lived here.

But after college, she moved to Mississippi for a non-profit job in Starkville. She lived in Mississippi for 11 years. During this time, she had her first child and at the same time her Mother was diagnosed with cancer. She began at that time to desire to move back home. And a year and a half later they did and found a beautiful place on Lake D'Arbonne.

Herrmann said, "I felt lucky then that things worked out for the sale of our Mississippi house. We found jobs. I found a great job at Louisiana Tech in Ruston. All seemed to be working out well."

However, four years later, she left the job at Tech because she felt her children needed her to be more available to them.

She took a job with a child abuse organization in Monroe that allowed more flexible time for the children.

Herrmann commented, "Again, things seemed to work out for the best.

However, I did wish for a job locally where I could be closer to the kids at school and our home. But job positions rarely open up in Farmerville--certainly few that matched my background. I would often take the children to the library and would think how much I would enjoy working in that environment, but it seemed unlikely."

About this time a strange yearning appeared to enter her thoughts. Always an avid reader, a book by Kimberly Willis Holt, "Part Of Me" came to her attention. As she was listening to the radio, she was invited to call in and receive a free copy of the book. She responded immediately and got her copy but didn't read it right away. Nearly a year passed before she read the book. During this time, she saw an ad in the paper for the position of library director and sent a resume.

Herrmann added, "Once I applied, I did not hear anything for months. I assumed that the position was filled or that I was not a candidate."

The book, when she had time to read it while on vacation was about being a librarian and this awakened and clarified that vague feeling she had earlier about working at the library. Her degree in management and experience with non-profit groups didn't fully fit the position. Still though, the book seemed to rekindle that desire in her again. Once returning from vacation, she received a call from the library board for an interview.

That was two years ago now and she continues to feel blessed that events unfolded to bring her home and to the library position.

Herrmann states, "Things happen for a reason. I don't always understand them, but I sure am grateful that events fall into place and my path seems to be charted by someone other than me. This is what makes me so thankful."

Located at 202 Jackson Street, the Union Parish library is called commUNITY. It began in a spirit of unity by community initiative, for community education and through community determination. The dream began December 18, 1955 with the Union Parish Police Jury and the State Library of Louisiana. The State Library placed 9,000 books for the original collection and operated the library as a demonstration to gauge community interest. Parish-wide library services began March 10, 1956 in a building furnished rent free by the Union Parish School Board. On December 29, 1956, community property owners voted a 3-mill tax for a ten-year period to continue library service. On October 29, 1966, the tax was renewed with 2.25 mill for operation and .75 mill for building construction. Construction of the present building was begun in May of 1968. The formal opening was held on April 20, 1969 on the site of the former Smith hotel. Total cost was $180,000 and was financed by the local tax with matching funds from the State Library through the Library Service and Construction act.

The Farmerville library still builds on the spirit of unity in this community. The book and media collection has grown to over 62,000 and services continue to reflect the needs of the community. These include added technology, media materials, and office services. Approximately 3,000 people visit the library each month and even more through the bookmobile outreach programs to area schools. The library listens to us and provides books and special programs based on the diversity of culture and interest. Staff provide expertise but also friendship of family and neighbors.

One goal in 2008 was to form a Friends of the Library for volunteers interested in making a difference. One of the staff's favorite phrases is, "Have you ever thought about. . ." I personally enjoy the fact that Stephanie involves so many young people in the community in creative and educational endeavors. She even constructs a themed display each month in the window display case at the front of the library, composed of items brought in by members of the community. I have watched with interest the wonderful unfoldment of our public library these last two years. It involves the needs and interest of everyone in our large parish. The budget might be low (the third lowest budget in the state of Louisiana) but there is no lack of novel ideas for programs for all ages. Large print and high interest westerns are favorites for the retired crowd.

The children are constantly involved in growing experiences tailored to their needs.

Libraries are for entertainment, but they may also inspire people to consider writing themselves. Stephanie writes children's books for her own children. These are inspired by the night creatures of the lake. As she enjoys the twilight and peace of being at home these stories occur as she imagines what her animal neighbors might be thinking of what they see and don't understand about the human population. She has named these characters. One, Patsy the Pelican is named for her mom and is sort of high minded. There is even a gator Allie Alligator with a Cajun accent. There is a wise guy Henry Heron, of course, who helps the group solve their perplexing mysteries and its all great fun. She sometimes shares these stories at Christmas as gifts but doesn't plan to market them. They, like her service to the community are done just for love.

She is the proud parent of two children, Maggie, 11, and a son, Conner who is nearly ten now. He loves to read factual stuff and then build it or create it.

His current interest is in bees and photography. Her daughter's literary interest is more varied. She is never without a book she is reading. She loves books about animals and spooky stories too. They both love their school, Union Christian and the library where Mom works is their second home.

Libraries of today are evolving just like the story of this librarian's remarkable journey and her family have evolved. Libraries are not stagnant buildings, but rather a flowing of books, ideas, programs, and people who change and adapt as their lives unfold. Herrmann added, "I believe that we are here to reflect the diversity and vitality of the Union Parish people. Their stories and their dreams also tell a story. It is my hope that we recognize the needs of our community and respond and provide services and programs that meet those needs." The library's motto, "Lighting the Way Since 1956" is certainly true today. It is a light for all of us and we are so lucky to have it.