Lark Thornton remembers when Newton Grove opened its library branch, Bryan Memorial. In fact, she was there.
“I remember the opening day, Jan. 3, 1983,” said Thornton, the branch manager at Bryan Memorial, where she’s worked for the past 31 years, holding the lead position there the entire time. “We were working 20 hours a week.”
The library was completed the November before, with the dedication on Dec. 12, 1982.
Next week, on April 30, to be exact, Thornton will retire from the library that has been her second home for over three decades. A reception in her honor will mark the occasion.
“I have a lot of things coming up in the next month, and it’s going to be bittersweet for me,” said Thornton of her impending retirement from a job she has admittedly loved.
“I have developed really close relationships with the people here.”
The Bryan Memorial Library was built in memory of James W. Bryan and his wife, Irene Carroll Bryan. The entire library, right down to the books, was given to the town of Newton Grove by members of the Bryan family.
“The Bryan family had a vision of the town having a library,” recalled Thornton. “They didn’t live in Newton Grove but they had ties to Newton Grove. Their family grew up here in the Depression.”
Raymond Bryan, from Goldsboro, provided funding for the library and it still stands today just as it was in 1982. There have been a few changes inside, but the library is still in keeping with the original facility.
“We have pictures of the Bryans’ in the foyer,” Thornton mentioned. Unfortunately Raymond Bryan passed away before it was dedicated back in 1982.
In her time as branch manager, Thornton has appreciated the support of the Bryan family and others in helping to ensure the library was as it needed to be.
“I really appreciate all the backup from Sampson County and the town of Newton Grove,” said Thornton. The Bryan family has been very supportive, and when the facility needed a new roof, they were right on target to help.
“I remember talking with them about that roof,” said Thornton. “They told me a check would be in the mail tomorrow, and it was.” She said that they have put a lot into the maintenance of the building over the years, something for which she, and patrons, are most grateful.
Exterior repairs aren’t the only change that has come to the library over the years. Thornton said that the technology has changed dramatically since when she first started.
“When I began there were no computers,” she explained. “We had just books and magazines and a card catalog.”
“At first we were lucky to have 12 people a day,” she divulged. “It took off with computers,” she added, noting that as perhaps the biggest - and most welcome - change experienced at the branch.
The library received their first circulation computer in 1989 when the collection became automated.
“I remember when we started carrying movies,” Thornton recalled, noting how important that, too, was to patrons.
She also admitted that the ever-changing world of technology had brought its own brand of challenges.
“We get adjusted to one technology and before you know it, it has changed again,” asserted Thornton.
Another big change she has noticed over the years is the increase in numbers of those from the Hispanic community who frequent the library.
“We get a lot of large families that come into the library, and into this area as a whole,” added Thornton.
That change in dynamic is part of what led Thornton into changing the conference room that is off the main entrance of the library into an expanded children’s collection. By expanding the children’s services area, the library is able to improve the service it provides to surrounding areas like Johnston and Wayne counties.
“We have schools that come pull books for their students,” Thornton explained, saying that it really helps the teachers out in the smaller schools that don’t have as many books they can utilize. Sometimes she gets a printout of what they are teaching in their classes and she is able to pull the additional resources and keep the selections age appropriate for the classes.
“I also love to display seasonal books,” she said. She put out Easter Eggs and bunnies for Easter this year, and has made special displays to encourage the kids to come in and look at the books.
“That’s how you ‘sell’ books to kids,” said Thornton. “I want kids to feel it’s OK to pull them off the shelf, because we can pull more.”
Pulling books for adults is also something that she really enjoys doing.
“I know a large percentage of the people who come in here,” said Thornton. “I know their names and something about them.” That excellent customer service is what makes it easy for her to make recommendations based on what they enjoy reading.
“I know their likes and dislikes,” she added. She said she enjoys being a reader’s adviser. Often they will come in and ask if there are books on hold for them because they know that Thornton will set something aside.
“If you know their interests, then you will know what authors they might enjoy,” said Thornton.
“I try to be real attentive and listen well to provide the best service that I can,” she explained. Even though the library isn’t open as much as it used to be, she still chooses to put customer service as her number one priority in keeping with the library’s friendly, relaxing atmosphere.
Her retirement marks an end of an era for Newton Grove and the library, and while all hope she enjoys her much-deserved time away from work, Thornton will be great missed.
“She has done an awesome job, and goes above and beyond,” said Newton Grove Mayor Barbara Burch in a telephone interview Monday. “She has done an excellent job on getting people into the library.”
“The Bryan Memorial Library is what it is because of Lark Thornton,” added Burch. “We all wish her the very best and she will be truly missed.”
Those sentiments are shared by Sampson County’s library director, Heather Boney.
“We have really enjoyed her, and hate to see her go,” said Bonney. “The big joke has been that she came with the library.” Bonney said Thornton is the only person who has been with the library for 31 years and never switched positions.
“It was a shock, her retiring,” stressed Bonney. “She is very conscientious and would give the shirt off her back if she thought it would help you.” Thornton has gone above and beyond she said, going that extra mile.
“We really hope people will come out for her retirement party,” said Bonney.
A farewell reception is planned for Thornton from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30. The library will not be open for business on that day, as they are usually closed.
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.