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Customer on Center Stage: Mary Tom Vermillion

Visitors to the Wilson Library might mistake Mary Tom Vermillion for a librarian. Their guess wouldn’t be far off. Mary Tom has spent her life in libraries, serving as a school librarian for 35 years and now frequenting Wilson library with her grandchildren. She is at home in the library: chatting with customers, helping kids pick out a new book to read, suggesting a great author, recommending resources for research and information. When asked to describe her favorite thing about libraries, Mary Tom smiles and talks about community: “Libraries are important to the community. I’m glad this one is here. People may not come all the time, but they want it to be here when they need it. People do need libraries. They provide recreation, resources like computers for completing job applications, doing homework. And they have so many reference books! People think they can get all the information they need from the internet, and they forget how important reference books are. I guess I’m just a book lady!”

Mary Tom Vermillion was born with a book in her hands. With an English teacher for a mother and a love for reading, Mary Tom came to see a library as a “place with a constantly growing collection of new books.” She attended school in Burdette, ultimately graduating from Blytheville High School and enrolling in Memphis State. At the young age of 17, Mary Tom was unsure what she wanted to study, or what she wanted to do with her life. Naturally, she turned to a book to help her decide: as she flipped through the course catalog, the description for English major, Library Science minor caught her eye. She signed up for the first classes, and a librarian was born.

Fifty years later, Mississippi County libraries are part of Mary Tom Vermillion’s DNA. After college, Mary Tom took a job as elementary librarian in Shawnee (Joiner), where she began to introduce new generations of students to the world of books and the resources of libraries. Over her 35-year-long career, Ms. Vermillion also ran the libraries for Wilson Elementary, Rivercrest Junior High, and Rivercrest High School. Now retired, she frequents the Wilson branch of the Mississippi County Libraries, often with a grandchild (or 6) in tow. She has watched the job of a librarian evolve over the years: records that once had to be kept meticulously by hand are now computerized; research that used to involve digging through reference books now begins with an internet search. But she still believes in the value of shelves stocked with a variety of books, and a librarian who can help determine the validity of a source. Mary Tom’s favorite part of being a High School librarian was teaching the students how to research: “I’d beg the teachers to bring their classes down to the library so I could help them with research projects. I loved showing those kids all the different library resources, and teaching them how to find reliable answers to their questions.”

Wilson librarian Linda Dawson knows what Ms. Vermillion and her grandchildren like to read. She calls Mary Tom whenever a new Dean Koontz novel arrives, and tells her about other fiction authors that might catch her interest. Mary Tom says, “I love to come in and look at the shelves. I’ll pull out a book, read the blurb on the back, find something that interests me. I bring my grandkids and let them find something they like. It’s important that they develop a love of reading at an early age. I love it when they get into a series and try to get me to read it, too!” Mary Tom works hard to be sure her grandchildren are exposed to books and activities at the library. She brings them all to the Summer Reading Program, where they get to participate in fun activities throughout the summer. They love to read and win prizes, and look forward to special programs. Their favorite is Bob Tarter’s Amazing Animals, “Those animal programs are a hoot! When he brings snakes, he doesn’t just show the kids. He likes to pick on the grown-ups. I really enjoy that!”

Mary Tom Vermillion lives a life on the go. She retired in order to care for grandchildren, but seems to be more busy than ever. “People say the don’t know how I do everything I do,” she grins. “I can’t remember the last time I stayed home all day; I’m always gone!” Between caring for grandchildren, actively volunteering for the Wilson Cooperative Club and Wilson First Baptist Church, meeting up with other retired teachers, and joining her family for a big Sunday meal, it’s sometimes hard to find time for reading. But in the evenings, when all the business of the day has settled down, Mary Tom loves to curl up with a good book and end her day with her favorite lifelong activity: a good book.

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