National Library Week, wrapping up on April 14, is a time to celebrate and promote the contributions of public libraries — not a hard sell for Newton's Karen Farrell.
Working as a school librarian in Hesston for nearly a decade (following 16 years as a fourth-grade teacher), you could say Farrell has a vested interest in the institutions, so it didn't take much convincing to get her involved with the Newton Public Library, taking on a role with the library board after she retired in 2007.
"A library is near and dear to my heart, but also in 2007 our neighbor, Pete Fey, was president of the library board at that time and he asked me if there'd be any chance I'd be willing and able to be on it and I said, 'absolutely,'" Farrell said.
Following Fey's passing not long after, Farrell came on the board to fulfill his term, which led to a longer tenure than most. She recently completed her 10th — and final year — of service on the board.
Through that time, a lot of the work Farrell addressed with the board centered on the library's budget, but there was plenty of additional focus on the directives and programs put forward by library staff.
"We support the library in every way we can," Farrell said.
Over the years, Farrell said she relished the chance to work with many great board members and a dedicated library staff of which she was constantly effusive.
Noting a number of dealings (like the many programs) she was all for, Farrell admitted one of her biggest personal crusades while serving on the board centered on a new library facility. That goal was being talked about before Farrell came on the board and continues to be a sticking point as she ends her final term.
Disappointing as it may be to Farrell that the board has gained no ground in moving forward with site improvements, an opportunity recently presented itself to allow her to continue the push for what she sees as a necessity, with the creation of the library task force by the Newton City Commission. Its express purpose is to address improvements to the Newton Public Library, so while Farrell can no longer serve on the board, she was quick to throw her hat in the ring as a willing member of the task force.
"We need a lot more than Band-Aid work. We really do need an accessible elevator; we need space for a different kind of library than 30 years ago when the building was built. The technology isn't in place," Farrell said. "We do the best we can with what we have, but it definitely needs some updating."
Along with serving on the library board after retirement, Farrell has been equally committed to volunteering at Newton Medical Center in surgery care, sitting with families waiting on patients and being a liaison between the surgery center and the waiting room.
Being dedicated to both causes is something Farrell traces back to her upbringing.
"I had a good example with my own parents many years ago in a little town in western Kansas. They were into everything, church-wise and everything. I guess they instilled in me to give back to the community, and I really do feel strongly about the importance of that," Farrell said. "Being able to help people, that's just what I'm about. I'm certainly not as much of a leader as I am a helper."
Hard as it may be to find the time to give back to the community, Farrell knows firsthand just how needed that support is (and encourages anyone thinking about it to contact the hospital).
Getting more people involved helps lessen the load throughout the community, and given all the big projects under consideration in Newton, Farrell knows that extra bit of help would go a long way.
"We've got a lot of big things going right now — the high school, the library, the police station," Farrell said, "and they're all important to make a community viable, and so I just hope everybody can pitch in and do what they can to get those things going."