By Lisa Ferguson Anna-Melissa Tribune

Much has changed in the decade since Lorelei Perkins began working at Melissa Public Library.

Back then, the library was preparing to move from its former building on Cooper Street (which now houses Bella Couture Salon & Boutique) to its current location at Melissa City Hall.

“There were books from floor to ceiling” in the small space, she recalled.

One of Perkins’ earliest tasks was to devise a plan to organize the thousands of tomes for placement in the new library. “It was really fun because I sort of decided where things would be arranged.”

Over the years, library’s collection has continued to expand. It has also increased the types of programming, technology and services it offers to its 6,000 library card-carrying patrons.

Another big change is coming to the library: Perkins will no longer be there. She retires Friday from her role as the city’s library director.

“It’s been great,” she said, reflecting on her years on the job.

Among the highlights: watching attendance at story time sessions soar from just a couple of kids early on to upward of two dozen youngsters these days.

This is the second time that Perkins has retired from her career.

For 20 years, she worked as a technician in a cardiac catheterization lab at The University of Nebraska Medical Center before deciding to change jobs. She first became an intermediate-grade classroom teacher and, later, a high school librarian.

She retired from that position and moved 11 years ago to North Texas with her husband, Klarke.

However, her retirement was short-lived. “I lasted about six months and said, `I need to meet people.’”

Perkins went back to work as a substitute librarian at middle and high school campuses before the position at Melissa Public Library became available.

“Coming from an education background, I view libraries as an extension of continuing education,” she said. “People come to the library because they’re looking for jobs. People come to the library because they’re trying to strengthen their jobs (or) they’re trying to go into a different career.”

She recalls a woman who formerly frequented Melissa Public Library’s story time programs with her young children.

At first, the woman struggled to speak English, but “she … became more fluent … and talked to people and asked people questions” during story time, Perkins said.

Eventually, the woman returned to school and gained U.S. citizenship. “She’s now part of the what I think libraries represent and that’s every person in the community. … She had the potential to do it, but … coming to story time and meeting those other parents made all the difference.”

Jennifer Nehls, who started three years ago as a part-time clerk at Melissa Public Library, has been named its new director.

“Under Miss Lorelei, I’ve learned that you listen to everyone. You take into consideration what they want (and) what does this community also need,” said Nehls, who earned a master’s degree in library sciences last year. “I’ve gotten to know this community at her push.”

After retiring, Perkins said, “I’ll miss the people that are here (at the library) and I’ll miss the people that are in the (City Hall) building. That was the whole purpose of coming here - to meet people.”