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Lost Creek library honored as Best Small Library in U.S.

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By JAMES E. CASTO

For The State Journal

In the 1920s, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at Lost Creek was the largest cattle shipping point east of the Mississippi River. Today the 498 residents of the tiny Harrison County community have something new they can take pride in.

Library Journal and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have honored the Southern Area Public Library at Lost Creek as the Best Small Library in America 2013. The honor carries a $20,000 cash award.

John N. Berry III, editor at large at Library Journal, notes that the library at Lost Creek may be the smallest of West Virginia's 175 public libraries, but "it ranks with the state's best and brightest."

The award program's judges, he said, were tremendously impressed by the library's "activity, energy, growth and community engagement."

Writing in the current issue of Library Journal, Berry offered high praise for Lost Creek librarian Mary Beth Stenger.

"Under Stenger, SAPL has been transformed from a good, traditional public library into a modern, bustling center of community activity, information, and learning. All of this on a 2013 budget of just under $35,000 and the labor of a staff of two, a band of 20 volunteers, and a small board of trustees."

With a slogan of "Little Library with a Big Heart," the library launched a program to help a different charity each month. In its January Big Heart effort, the library collected birthday gift items for homeless children who have to spend their birthdays at a Clarksburg mission.

The library provides donated after-school snacks for the many latchkey kids that school buses drop off every weekday it is open. While at the library, children get homework help and computer support. High school students get assistance with their college applications.

Since Stenger's appointment in 2010, patron visits to the library have increased from 3,094 to 7,945. Programs have grown from 28 to 227 last year.

Stenger notes that the library's many programs would not be possible without the many volunteers who help. When she was appointed, the library had no volunteers. Since then, she's recruited 20. She said she always is looking for more.

With a tight budget always a concern, Stenger put a jar on the circulation desk with a sign suggesting users contribute. Patrons of larger libraries might be surprised to learn the little library at Lost Creek doesn't charge overdue fines but simply suggests that people with overdue books put some money in the jar.

"We are sure we get more in donations than we would from fines," Stenger said.

State Librarian Karen Goff echoed Berry's enthusiastic praise of Stenger.

"We all agree that what makes this library really, really good is the director," Goff said. "It is her commitment to the community, her knowledge of that community, and her unwillingness to concede limitation by saying, ‘We're too small,' We've known about this award for some time but couldn't talk about it until the official announcement came. It's great to have Mary Beth get the attention she and her library deserve."

The annual Best Small Library award, sponsored by the Gates Foundation, was created by Library Journal in 2005 to "encourage and showcase the exemplary work of libraries serving populations under 25,000."