Helen Harrison Phillips, revamped library foundation move libraries forward

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – The Shelby County Public Library Foundation, founded by Mildred B. Harrison just before her death in 1997, lay dormant for years, with no active members.

“Mother started it, but we really haven’t done anything with it – until now,” said Helen Harrison Phillips, daughter of the late Karl and Mildred Harrison and former president of the First National Bank of Shelby County.

“Now that I’ve wandered back here after 68 years, we are activating that,” Phillips added. “The library foundation, its sole purpose is to raise money for the member libraries.”

The foundation serves the 14 libraries of the Shelby County Library System and is headquartered at the Mildred B. Harrison Regional Library in Columbiana.

The re-energized foundation is developing a logo, getting stationary materials and making plans for at least two upcoming fundraisers: a fun event this summer still in the planning stages and a fall motorcycle ride called “Bikers for Books.”

While the library foundation has been used to obtain grants, it previously had not included an active group of members working to secure funds to better the libraries, said Kim Roberts, the system’s assistant director.

The revival of the library foundation started within the last few months, according Barbara Roberts, the system’s director.

“We’ve had some individuals in the community who have stepped forward,” Barbara Roberts said, “who want to actively pursue this and try to raise funds.”

Phillips is one of those individuals.

Though not a paid staff member, she has a desk at the library named in her mother’s honor, and is there on most days. A member of the library foundation’s board, Phillips describes herself simply as a “library patron.”

Other library foundation board members include Helen Phillips Dean, Mary Hedrick, Kathy Davis, Bill Justice, David Nolen, Judge Dan Reeves, Beverly Hall, Phoebe Donald Robinson and Billy Jones.

“We have a very active library foundation board made up of very different people from different walks of life,” Phillips said. “They’re very good.”

They’ll work to secure funds for books, like the award-winning children’s books and family literacy aids purchased for the last several years with help from State Farm.

“We look forward to continuing a relationship with them and other contributors,” Phillips said.

The system has in the last six years seen a 78 percent increase in circulation, from 838,596 in 2006 to 1.5 million in 2011.

A total of 3,834 people have attended the system’s 20 programs so far this year.

In the library’s database, 391,424 items are maintained.

The Shelby County Commission is the library’s primary source for funds, Kim Roberts said.

“They’ve always been good to us,” Phillips added.

The Shelby County Library Board first met Sept. 28, 1940, and Mildred Harrison was hired as the first professional librarian. She went on to serve on the Alabama Public Library Service Executive Board and the Harrison Regional Library Board for more than 50 years. The Shelby County Library in 1985 was officially renamed in her honor.

Harrison died Nov. 30, 1997 at the age 88.

“My mother loved the library,” Phillips said. “Next to her family, this library and the libraries were her love. I’m my mother’s daughter. It’s fun that I’m back here involved in the museum and the library.”

The Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington is located next door the library.