Ashley Baker grew up in the library. Her grandparents lived only a few blocks away from the Osceola Branch, so she could walk to the library after school and on weekends and spend hours in a sunny corner, lost in a book. Ashley’s grandfather encouraged the reading bug: he took her to get her first library card when she was about nine years old, and would help her read through the piles of books she’d check out and bring home. Her grandfather loved to read, and encouraged Ashley and her twin sister to find stories they could escape into, that would open their imaginations to whole new worlds. “I would sit right here,” Ashley recalls with a smile, indicating a book-filled corner of Osceola Branch’s children’s section, “and I’d read and read until the library closed. I read through all these books, and was always asking for more.”
Ashley married her high school sweetheart in 2011, and they moved to Keiser. They love the quiet of living in the country and the community that a small town brings. Now a mother, Ashley is passing her love of reading down to her five-year-old daughter. Ashley began collecting children’s books even before her little girl was born. Now it’s her daughter that brings home piles of books from the library, and the two read them together: three, four, five books a day. They love Dr. Seuss and Usborne books, Llama, llama stories, and the Junie B. Jones series. Ashley is helping prepare her daughter for Kindergarten by reading through books about world history, geography, and science. Her daughter loves to read, and Ashley is delighted to see the excitement about books she learned from her grandfather light up her daughter’s eyes.
Besides being an avid reader, Ashley Baker is an accomplished cook. She loves to find new recipes in cookbooks, and is always up for trying a new dish that she found on Pinterest. Her favorite recipes are for southern food standbys: good, comforting, filling fare. She also tries to cook healthfully: Ashley’s grandparents now live with her, and she wants to keep her whole family well! Ashley therefore modifies the recipes she finds to make them more nutritious, and writes reviews of the dishes she tries for her friends. She’ll sometimes flip through cookbooks at the library for inspiration, or to see if it’s a book she’d like to add to her collection.
Ashley has made the Keiser Library a second home. She was immediately drawn there, recognizing it as a social hub: “It’s great to go to the library and see women and people from the community, to just talk and be social.” Ashley befriended Keiser librarian Karen Harrison, and together they developed a plan to bring more young mothers into the library: Keiser Craft Time. Each month, Ashley reads the gathered a children a few books, and leads them in a craft that is coordinated with the theme. Her favorites are helping the kids make Mother’s and Father’s Day crafts, and celebrating Christmas, when Santa and Mrs. Claus are special guests! Ashley dreams about developing an after-school program at the library, for kids to come read, eat a snack, participate in fun crafts and activities, and get help with their homework. “The library was always a safe place for me as a kid. I want to help other kids find it the way I did,” she says. The children who come to Keiser Craft Time already appreciate her hard work and warm heart: “Kids come up to me all the time and ask me when the next Craft Time will be. They don’t think once a month is often enough!”
Ashley values the relationship she’s built with Keiser librarian Karen. She loves that Karen always calls her when the library gets new children’s books, and is sure to order titles she knows the local kids will like. Karen knows her customers well, and is always looking for ways to get more people to come to the library. “She goes out of her way to make people comfortable, so they’ll want to come. She’s sweet, the library is always clean; she’s really making the Keiser Library a destination.” Ashley says that Mississippi County Library staff have always gone out of their way to make her feel welcome, and that’s part of the reason that she still loves to read and visit the library today. The Mississippi County Library System is honored to have customers like Ashley Baker, and can’t wait to see what she reads next!