BY NORMAN ROZEFF
In 2001 the Harlingen Historical Preservation Society began to coordinate with the library on a long-term project, that of an Archive Room to preserve both Harlingen and Rio Grande Valley history.
A separate secured room was made available on the second floor of the library near the periodical stacks. Filing in the room was organized in a systematic manner. Three of the four-drawer filing cabinets were assigned to about 68 Harlingen subjects while three additional file cabinets contained information on other Lower Rio Grande Valley subjects, mainly with sites for each city and town broken down into folders of administration, churches, history, obituaries, and schools.
In addition, two legal size filing cabinets were devoted to over-sized paper items and also Harlingen photographs, birds, wildlife, the histories of the Rio Grande Valley Historical Society and the Harlingen Historical Preservation Society, and a drawer with individual folders for each Harlingen church. The library also deposited in this room old telephone directories, special editions of newspapers and magazines, rare Valley history literature, school yearbooks and much more.
The Library board at the time of the opening consisted of Mary “Cookie” Tisdale, president; Helen Feldman, vice president; Edna Tamayo, secretary; and Mercedes Garcia, treasurer together with members Nancy Hall, and Diane Sandberg. Heading the Book Fund Project were co-chairs Teri Youngblood and Katherine Uhlhorn.
Donors of rooms were Frank N. Boggus and family, Robert Boggus and family, Dial Dunkin and family, Randy and Gerry Fleiret, Matt and Patty Gorgas, Mr. and Mrs. Forrest Runnels and family together with Valley Beverage, Inc., and the H-E-B Harlingen store. Later a large number of individual Harlingen citizens and businesses purchased terra cotta paving tiles in support of the library. The tiles vary by the size depending upon the amount of donation that started at $50 and then $100, 250, 500, and 1,000. They were installed in the south entrance to the library.
In October 2000 following the unexpected death of civic activist Lillian Lemon, the auditorium of the library was named in her memory.
In late January 2007 the Children’s Sculpture Garden, near the library’s south entrance, was dedicated. The sculptures were donated by Pat and Matt Gorgas, who had given the initial one in 1996. Three of the bronze statues are of children, the fifth is of Mark Twain seated on a bench, and these are supplemented by a beautiful decorative bronze arch made up of stacked books with a child reading a book at its peak.
The Twain figure invites people to sit down and have their photo taken with the author. Later the garden was further enhanced by a donation of the Sue and Al Coneway Fountain by Peter R. Coneway. It was in memory of his father who grew up in Harlingen. Mr. Coneway at the time was U. S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Lichentenstein. He had promised to donate $25,000 for a fountain if the community would match it, and it had done so over time. In fact, over the previous seven years $147,000 had been raised (in part from tile sales) to make the garden with its stately Texas oak trees a reality. In early 2007 the library receives another rare gift.
It was 4,000 architectural blueprints of Harlingen and Valley structures. Mike Dailey volunteered to inventory this collection and spent many an hour at this task.
They currently reside in the Archive Room.
The year 2008 will see an average of 1,000 visitors daily.
An unwanted visitor this year in July was Hurricane Dolly. It caused the loss of 5,600 books in the children’s section, along with some videos and material in the book store.
By the year 2009 the library had increased its professional staff to include four individuals who had been awarded Master of Library Science degrees. They were part of the now 15 full-time, seven part-time employees, and library volunteers who supplemented with 4,702 hours. This size staff was requir- ed as visitors totaled 274,539 for the year that saw 32,235 library card holders from residents and 6,112 additional non-residents. As a corollary, budgeting had also risen.
The city provided $980,466, the library generated $96,050, and other sources brought in $24,894 for a total of a little over a million dollars for the library that now was open 56 hours a week.
In August 2010 broadband internet was introduced at the many monitor stations throughout the library. Six years later the system would continue to be modernized after the city commission approved $58,226 for a project to improve internet wiring and speed, $49,000 of this came from a Federal Communications Commission grant and balance from the city.
In February 2012 artist Vickie A. Wallace completed her mural in the Children’s Auditorium. It is titled “Let Me Tell You a Story”. It is but one of many numerous art works displayed throughout the library. Created by area artists they mostly convey southwest and Valley subject matter. Supplementing this theme are a series of five Remington bronzes donated to the library by Harlingen businessman Edward Sokolov as well as a bronze bust of Mark Twain donated by Matt and Patty Gorgas.
Now numbering 46 diverse paintings and drawings, in addition to the sculptures, the collection began in 1994, when the Library Board established an art committee, and was wholly funded by private donations. For a number of years at both the old and new library buildings, children, and adults alike, were greeted and astound- ed by a giant upright white polar bear preserved through taxidermy and placed near the entrance. It is also noted that the library this year adds e-books for loan. It already has a special collection of over-sized print books for those visually impaired.
For the fiscal year 2012-13 library statistics continue to illustrate how well the facility continues to serve the community. In this period 5,315 books were purchased and 7,913 cataloged. The number of registered users was 35,424 while the library hosted 307,954 visitors.
One ongoing operation that the library staff handles with critical care is the discarding or weeding of outdated or not used books for a long period literature. These books are often sold in the Friends of the Library book store, so they eventually find a caring home.
After months long search the city employs Dauna Campbell as Director to start in August 2015. She is currently being well supported by the Assistant Director Molly Walter.
The library established the annual H. William Card Jr. Library Service Award to recognize outstanding
support of the Harlingen Public Library. Commencing in 1998, those receiving awards through 2017 have been Alice Jane Mays, Charles E. Fryman, Matt and Patty Gorges, Edward Sokoloski, Mary “Cookie” Tisdale, Annelle “Grannie” Clausen, The Friends of the Library, Elouise Campbell, Nolene Chamberlain, Peter R. Coneway, Bernice Frizzell Thompson, Ola Sandlin, Graham and Anne McCullough, Workforce Solutions Cameron, H-E-B, Curtis Bonner, Norman Rozeff, and the Junior League of Harlingen (twice).