Someone who thinks a library is just about checking out books hasn’t been to the Fayette County Public Library and almost certainly has never met Chris Snell.
Snell, the director of the Fayette County Public Library, has a love for stories and bringing people together through the power of storytelling. The library serves as much more than a place to pick up a book and leave. It’s a place for people to learn about different cultures, see other perspectives, and explore new possibilities. Snell’s enthusiastic and inviting personality keeps people coming back.
Snell remembers the day she decided to become a librarian. She was teaching an eighth grade class in Mississippi and took her students to the local library for a field trip. Snell was critical of the librarian at the library, telling him he didn’t have enough in the library to give children an opportunity to learn.
“If you can do a better job, you become a librarian,” Snell recalls being told. “So that’s what I did.”
In 1976, Snell moved to Atlanta to attend Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). She worked at a library in Griffin for a while and eventually ended up at the Fayette County Library, where she’s joined by a staff that shares her passion for going beyond the call of duty to create a sense of community at the library.
During Black History Month, the Fayette County Public Library has many activities and events aimed at not only sharing the history of African Americans, but all cultures. One display at the library consists of a collection of books about immigrants.
Public Services Librarian Sarah Trowbridge said the display isn’t to make a political statement but rather to show that everyone has a story.
“It seemed like a good time to highlight that,” Trowbridge said. “There are all kinds of stories, and everybody’s got one.”
One of the activities for children during Black History Month is freedom quilt making, a way for parents and children to get excited about going to the library.
Children’s Librarian Joy Vallandingham said it’s important for children to learn about their history, and freedom quilt making is a creative way to teach while also making it fun.
“The parents love to bring their kids in here, and the parents are teaching their kids the love for the library,” Vallandingham said.
The library has long hosted a Blended Heritage celebration, where people from all different areas come together and share something about their culture, whether it be through telling a story or through performance. The 19th annual edition is set for Friday, February 24 at 7 p.m.
Each year, the library also hosts a Citizenship Ceremony where the official Oath of Allegiance is administered for new citizens. In 2016, 62 people representing more than 40 countries took part.
These activities, as well as many more, have created a community at the library that not only looks forward to going to the library, but is also diverse.
Snell said there is prejudice in the world, but that’s only because of one word: Communication. By communicating with each other, the staff at the Fayette County Public Library is able to look past someone’s race and appreciate each person for who they are.
“We do not look at the color of anybody’s skin because we’re here to serve,” Snell said.
One of the ways in which the library encourages everyone to be comfortable speaking up and sharing their thoughts is through a monthly book reading. The group will all read the same book and then meet up to discuss it. Oftentimes, Trowbridge said, there are people from many different backgrounds providing their thoughts on the book.
“Even when people don’t like the book, they like to come to the discussion and complain about it,” Trowbridge said.
Some who come to talk about how they didn’t like the book change their opinion entirely because of someone else’s perspective. It’s one of the many ways the library gets people to learn something new from someone else’s story.
At the Fayette County Public Library, someone can go and check out a book and return it a few days later, but if that’s all someone uses the library for, it’s likely that person is missing out on a whole lot more.
“We know we make a difference,” Snell said.