PEOLI — Renee Brown Parker has been an avid reader since childhood.
She read anything she could get her hands on: books, cereal boxes, newspapers, anything. Now, as an adult, she’s channeled her love of reading in a new direction — establishing a lending library on the family farm near Peoli to serve Amish residents in southern Tuscarawas County.
A room in the farm is filled with books on every conceivable subject – history, travel, biographies, medicine, horses, gardening, firearms, beekeeping, Western novels and thrillers. There are also board games and puzzles.
A section is dedicated to children’s books. Amish children have a particular fondness for the old mysteries of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, she said.
The nearest public library is 8.5 miles away in Freeport – a long distance to travel by buggy.
Parker’s Library is named after Maryann Blackwell, a woman from Parker’s church who nurtured her love of reading when she was young. When Parker brought her future husband, Steve, with her to church, she was surprised to learn that Maryann was Steve’s aunt and grew up on the Parker farm.
All books in the library are stamped “Maryann’s Little Library, Read It, Love It, Return It”.
“I try to imprint that in all the books so they know where they came from,” said Parker, a former writer for The TR. “I don’t care if they bring the books back or not.”
The library has been around for about a year. Parker knew there were Amish families in the Peoli area who liked to read, so she bought them books.
“Every time I came downstairs, I carried box after box of books here. I stored them in my basement,” said Parker, who lives in York Township near New Philadelphia.
Finally, there were too many books in their basement. So she told Steve that it would make more sense to take the books to Peoli and build a library so everyone could come and get what they wanted. It took time to convince, but Steve finally accepted the idea.
The books are stored on shelves built by an Amish who lives in the neighborhood. Parker doesn’t know how many books there are, but there are probably over 2,000 volumes.
Ten neighborhood Amish families frequent the library, occasionally coming to bring home a box or bag of books.
“One of these children’s books is taken home and it is read by seven or eight children before it comes back,” she said.
Parker recalls an incident where she was talking about libraries and a young Amish boy said he had never been there before.
“I wanted to cry, because I thought I would never have the experience of walking into a building and knowing that you can have anything you want,” she said. “Most of them really like to read.”
A little boy from the neighborhood loves trains.
“How was he exposed to the trains, I have no idea,” Parker said. “He was 2, loved trains. So he would come here and find all the train books. Then when it was time to bring the family’s box of books back, he wouldn’t let them go.
“His mom kept apologizing, and I’m like if he finds a book he likes so much, I want him to keep it. That’s the point, find something you want on read. He brought it to the dinner table. He slept with it. There was just something about that book that he liked. That’s what I want. I want kids to find things they love. really, really like.”
Parker finds books for the library everywhere — at garage sales, in people’s basements, and on eBay. She took to Facebook asking for people’s old books and got a great response.
However, the library doesn’t have any books on religion, romance novels, or anything about witches or wizards.
“I tried to be very careful about what I bring here,” she said.
Parker said many people have books they no longer read but don’t want to get rid of. For the Amish, however, books are all they have.
“So it works really well that something other people would throw away, I can bring it here and they have new life,” she said.