Librarian retires from job but not her passion

Sheila Phenix in her happy place – among the books at the Webster Parish Library.

By Bonnie Culverhouse

Books are her life, helping people is her passion. Now, after 28 years of working at the Webster Parish Library, Sheila Phenix is ready to channel that passion into a new adventure.

“I have other things I want to do,” Phenix said. “I helped a lot of people along the way – school teachers, students.”

Some of her favorite times have been when schools assigned science and social study fairs, as well as papers written about Black History Month.

“Kids would come in, you find out what they need, and you start pulling out the books,” she said. “We’ve had teachers from Minden High School walk their students to the library, and they were teaching the kids how to use reference books. Those were the good old days.”

One of the biggest changes Phenix has seen over the years is technology.

“Everything is on the computer now,” she said. “I miss those days when the kids actually had to come in the library and use books.”

Phenix says she began her career in circulation in 1993, when Director Eddie Hammontree hired her to take her sister’s place temporarily. However, her time with books really started when she was 11 years old as a library helper at J.A. Middle School. Then, as the years passed, she worked in the summers at Jones Memorial Library before replacing her sister with Webster Parish Libraries – a job that eventually became permanent.

Phenix worked at the reference desk before becoming branch manager over 11 employees in 2001.

“What I like to do the most is getting out in the shelves and make sure the books are in order,” she said. “Every once in a while I catch myself doing that, and I have to remind myself to let the staff do their jobs.”

But, again, her passion is helping people.

“This is a ministry, too,” she said. “I tell my staff all the time to smile at people when they come in the door. Encourage them and treat everybody the same. You never know what that person might be going through and maybe they just need to see a friendly face.”

Phenix already knows how she will funnel that passion after she says goodbye to the world of books.

“I plan to take care packages to the nursing homes, because you know some of those people don’t have anyone to visit them,” she said. “I can play BINGO with them, and I can cook meals once a week for the people who are alone.”

Since 2017, Phenix has worked under Savannah Jones’ directorship. But Jones remembers Phenix from her own time as a young person.

“Shelia was the first librarian I ever met as a child,” Jones said. “I grew up coming to the library after school, and I always felt comfortable coming to her for absolutely anything. I believe she has made many others feel the same way. Shelia is genuine, caring, and always puts the needs of others before herself. She is not just an employee; she is a friend and a part of our library family. She will be missed greatly.”

Jones said Phenix is leaving some big shoes to fill.

“You can’t teach her personality,” Jones said. “You have it or you don’t, and this is what Sheila has brought to the table since Day One.”

And Phenix admits she will miss the library, but there is another coming along – a six-year-old child whose grandmother intends to teach her about the library and the wonderful world of books.

A community-wide retirement reception is planned in Phenix’s honor from 2 until 3 p.m. Monday, January 31. The celebration is open to the public and will be held at the library’s main branch on East & West St.

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