It’s no secret that we like numbers here at LRS. Give us a rich data set and we will get lost in it for days. However, we also recognize the power of good stories to resonate with people on a deeper level than numbers often do. Take Olly Neal’s story, for example. In the late 1950s, Olly was a high school senior in Arkansas who liked to cut class and get in fights. One day, he was in the school library and noticed a book by African American author Frank Yerby. While it interested him, he was concerned that if anyone saw him checking it out, they would tell his friends he liked to read and then his reputation would be ruined. So, he hid the book under his jacket and walked out. After finishing the book, he returned to the library to sneak it back on the shelf, was pleasantly surprised to discover another Yerby title there, and snuck that one out as well. This process repeated itself several times over the course of the semester.
Thirteen years later, Olly ran into his school librarian while attending his high school reunion, and she told him she had spotted him when he “stole” his first Yerby book. Initially, she wondered why he was trying to smuggle the book out of the library when he could check it out for free. But soon she caught on to his motives, and decided to encourage his budding interest in reading any way she could. Unfortunately, the works of African American authors were not widely available during that time period, and neither the school library nor the other local libraries had additional Yerby titles. So, she drove to a library in Memphis to pick up another Yerby title for him to read. She repeated this process each time he took out a book. Olly credits his school librarian, and the extraordinary efforts she made on his behalf, with getting him interested in reading. This interest set him on a path that ultimately led to his acceptance to law school. Today, Olly is a judge for the 1st Judicial District in eastern Arkansas.
Do you have a story about how your library has impacted you or someone you know? Share it here.