Humans of Kentucky Libraries

Inspired by the popular Humans of New York series, Friend of the Library Rebecca Brackmann has created a series called “Humans of Kentucky Libraries.”  HoKYL features patrons and public servants from libraries around the state.  In these counties, library services are absolutely essential.  Those places and those people are doing work on the ground level in struggling communities, giving people hope and resources to improve themselves, and their counties.  We hope you enjoy reading the stories of the people, communities, and their libraries, and continue advocating for these essential public services for all counties in KY.  Many thanks to Rebecca for taking the time to work on this project!

Middlesboro Bell County Public Library

Middlesboro Bell County Public Library

County Population: approx. 27,000

Bell County library visits last year: 102,000 (55,000 to this branch)

In-library computer use: 12,000

Library wi-fi sessions: 21,000

Jeanna Cornett, Bell County Library Director

When I was a girl, we would drive through Middlesboro and my Daddy would say that people set out to build a town here just because it was so beautiful. There are real struggles here right now, especially with opioid addiction. The region is at a pivotal moment, where we have to decide whether we’re going to commit to change—from within the community—or just accept the “new normal.” We’re still trying to slow the spread of substance abuse, and we’re probably ten years from actually reversing overdose rates. But I dream about a future where we make plans and we don’t have to take addiction into consideration.

There’s a homelessness problem in Eastern Kentucky, and libraries probably saw it before anyone else, aside from law enforcement. We provide a safe place for them to be, with air conditioning and heat, internet, and books to read. Some people aren’t comfortable with those patrons, but we won’t ask anyone to leave if they’re not doing anything. We want everyone to feel like this is their library.

He was driving a log truck when we met, and then he started driving an 18-wheeler. I’d go with him. We went all over—Wyoming, Baltimore—except never to California. One time in Michigan we got snowed in with drifts up to the cab windows. I loved it.

I’ve still got my first car that I bought when I was 14—a 1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator. It was yellow, and since then it has been green, red, and it’s back to original yellow now. It’s almost like part of the family. When my friends and I were 15, we’d go cruising in it up and down Chester St. We weren’t even old enough to drive.

Bonnie, one of the librarians, has been helping me make a Facebook page for our family’s dog breeding business because my husband and I aren’t good with computers. We’ve been breeding Spanish Water Dogs for about three years. People don’t know how much work it is being a dog breeder. It’s more than just keeping the dogs clean, healthy, and groomed. You need to spend time with them. They’re like children—that time together with you is what molds their character. And it’s a great breed. A dog that was adopted from our first litter is being trained for search and rescue up in Delaware.

I was in the Army as a computer technician for 8 years, and I wanted to go career, but I had to be medically discharged. After I got out, I bought 9 acres and I live in a tiny house on the property. I’m still working on the house, and I’ve built some of the interior walls myself. Some people thought I was crazy—I’m mostly off the grid, and I’m learning about all the resources and the wildlife on my land. I’ve seen Eastern Turkeys, which look like ostriches, and even some scorpions. I’ve got blackberries and sassafras growing on my acres. Living this way has taught me how to conserve more. I used to worry a lot about what other people would think of me, but now that I’m doing this for myself, I don’t care about what anyone thinks.

I was never that interested in reading when I was young, but I started to bring the kids to the library and that got me into books.

This is where we have our meetings. All those problems they can’t figure out in Washington—we sit here and we solve them.

I used to be a coal agent for a land leasing company. My first day of the job, the timber agent and I drove out to a mine where he’d heard some of the miners were stealing coal. We drove around a ridge and parked, then got out of the truck and looked down at the mine face. All the workers stopped and looked up at us, and every one of them had a sidearm on.

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