16 Jul Margaret Rigney dedicates life to grow eastern Oklahoma libraries
Margaret Rigney never even saw a library until she went to college. All through her primary years, her Eufaula schools had some books, but nothing like the full, dedicated libraries in most schools now.
“Libraries were not a part of my life because there were not any,” Rigney said. “Each school room had a shelf of whatever books the teacher could scrape together, and pretty much everything that was on the shelves were about as old as I am now.”
But, after discovering the Dewey Decimal System in an elective course at Connors State College, a world of organization and systems opened up to her and her life started on a course that she’s now been on for many decades.
“It was the best course I ever took in my life,” she said.
She graduated from college and moved home to Eufaula to look for a job.
“Six months later, my mother comes home from church and pointed at me, and said, ‘They are going to put a library in Eufaula,” she said. “I said, ‘Get out of here! They aren’t going to put a library in Eufaula!”
But they did. And in February 1971, the Eufaula Public Library opened and gave Rigney her first job with a library.
“It was in a little strip mall,” she said. “It was a really, really old strip mall. It had three store fronts, and we got the middle one. I absolutely loved it. And I dove into that, and on the first day we had 300 and some odd people registered. And I found out that I loved the library.”
After a year or so, Rigney became the Children’s Coordinator for the entire library system, and she learned how to serve the varying needs of the small towns sprinkled throughout eastern Oklahoma.
“A town can be 12 miles from each other and they can be as different as night and day,” she said. “You think small towns are all the same, and no they are not. The people and their circumstances and their needs are all different.”
Rigney went on to work in other library systems, and then made her way back to Connors State College. Initially working as a secretary, she said she thought her library career was over.
“And then the president of Connors said, ‘Would you like to be the director of the library?” she said. “I didn’t even know he knew me.”
Rigney went on to serve as the director of the Connors State College Library for 19 years. Concurrently, she started serving on Eastern Oklahoma Library Systems, and has continued to serve on the board for the better part of more than two decades.
“Coming to the library’s board meetings has always been like going to a professional development conference,” she said.
She said she loves that fact that many children, and even their parents, today do not know a life without access to a public library, and she said she is proud of the career that seemed to find her where she spent her life helping people gain access to books and knowledge.
“There are generations now that know nothing but having these libraries in their communities,” she said. “In the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, there were not libraries in these small towns. It has changed these areas in ways people can’t even imagine. It improved the schools; it improved every area of life. And I love that. I love that I’ve been a part of that.”
She said, as a young girl, she read books through the Oklahoma Department of Libraries mailing service. She said she could get books sent to her for the price of a stamp. It made her appreciate the impact that a physical library can have on a community.
“That’s how I spent my summer days,” she said. “But, when the libraries came, I remember the first grade teachers who had tears in their eyes because they now had enough books to share with all of their students.”
Rigney has watched the entire transformation of libraries in eastern Oklahoma — from the humble beginnings to the community centers they are today.
“EOLS has changed eastern Oklahoma for the better,” she said. “It’s helped the schools — helped ordinary folks and parents. It’s changed the area. And now, they have become the town’s community gathering space. They realized they had a place to meet that there was not any fees or charges that would preclude people from using it.
“Everyone is equal at the library,” she said. “Everyone is included, not excluded.”
Rigney now is working on a history of the library system, and is discovering a lot of unknown history about the towns she has served for decades. After 23 years on the EOLS board, twice serving as board president, she still isn’t ruling out serving again.
“I think this next time will be my last time,” she said. “If I can finish this book of the history of the library, that will be a good end. Then, I can sit around and read my e-books.”