BROWNSVILLE — Mention the words “annual report” during most city council meetings and a low moan wafts through the audience.
Not so in Brownsville, where librarian Sherri Lemhouse provides city leaders with important facts — the library had nearly 3,000 visitors and 8,000 volumes checked out — intertwined with some enjoyable folly.
Lemhouse may be the only lyrical librarian in the world who sings her annual report to her bosses.
“It’s fun. The councilors look forward to it every time I step up,” she said. “It’s interesting and a joy for the councilors who often have to make difficult decisions.”
This year’s report was sung to the tune of “You are My Sunshine,” as selected by Mayor Don Ware. Lemhouse accompanied herself on the harpsichord. Previous ditties have been sung to music from “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Music Man,” among others.
“Why not?” Lemhouse said when asked why she decided to entertain the council as well as inform them. “We sing at story time all the time.”
She said making the report fun is a way of saying, “Hi, we’re still here. Here’s what’s going on at our library.”
Lemhouse has collected a closet full of accessories to accompany those story time tunes — most recently a tutu that she wore on her head — but unfortunately, she did not wear it during her Tuesday evening performance.
Music has always been an important part of Lemhouse's life. Her parents were musical and she grew up singing in church. She also plays the flute and piano.
Lemhouse’s father worked for Georgia Pacific, so the family moved numerous times while she was growing up: Corvallis, North Carolina, Idaho, eventually settling in Florence. She graduated from Siuslaw High School, then earned associate degrees in accounting and legal secretary studies, skills she uses every day in her job.
Lemhouse met her future husband Jad — a local judge — on the dance floor.
“I was dating one of his brothers and we were dancing at the veterans club,” she recalled. “It didn’t work out with his brother, but Jad and I married in 1993.”
Moving to Brownsville wasn't a big stretch, since her mother grew up south of town.
The Lemhouse family grew to include three children — sons John and Carl and daughter Celia — and she often took the kids to the Brownsville Library.
“Librarian Janis Taylor would put ink stamps up the kids’ arms,” Lemhouse said. “No matter how high their T-shirt sleeves were. We still do that today, although we use nonpermanent ink.”
Although Brownsville is a small town, with only 1,700 residents, the community has always valued its library. The Brownsville Women’s Club helped found it in 1911. It operates today with only two paid staff members: Lemhouse and Nettie Reed, who works four hours per week on Saturdays. More than 50 volunteers keep the doors open and the landscaping neat.
Lemhouse was a stay-at-home mom, “With the most beautiful garden in town,” when she began looking for “something to do that was interesting and challenging.”
So, she began volunteering at the library in September 2008. Two months later, librarian Paul Smith retired. Lemhouse was named interim librarian in December and took over permanently in February 2009.
“I was not a great reader as a child,” she said. “But it’s hard for me to not come to work. I love being here.”
Lemhouse said she is blessed to work with so many dedicated volunteers — including the mayor — who have contributed more than 1,000 hours in just the last six months. She's especially proud of the library’s programs for children, during the school year and during the summer months.
“The summer program had six kids and now we have more than 75,” she said. “We had 40 children for the last program last summer.”
She credits volunteers Sarah Glenn, Joy Running and DeEtte Ealy with that success. The program has grown so much that programs are divided into two age groups.
“It’s exciting to see the library bustling with children,” Lemhouse said. “These are memories they will carry with them all of their lives.”
In addition to the summer program, the library now offers two-and-a-half story time programs.
“We have two story times per week and then the Learning Tree puts on a program every other week,” Lemhouse said.
An adult book club and a stitchery group also meet at the library.
Lemhouse would like to expand programs to include more teenagers.
“We would need to find a time and volunteers,” she said. “I would love to offer a program such as STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math).”
One of Lemhouse's long-term goals is to enlarge the library building itself, which would mean more space for programs and books. She wants to be the town’s librarian for at least 19 years and six months, breaking a prior librarian’s record.
“That means I would have to be 68, so I have a ways to go,” Lemhouse said, and although she refused to give her age, she said a “big one” was coming this year.
Lemhouse praises the City Council for supporting the library and for the community itself, which sees the library as its “social hub.”
“I enjoy seeing the little kids excited to get their next book,” Lemhouse said. “It’s a social place where people can gather without having to buy a single thing. It’s a fun place to hang out.”
When she isn’t at the library, Lemhouse enjoys gardening — especially flowers. She grows more than 50 varieties and sells them out of a wagon near Living Rock Studios on Highway 228. She sells everything from daffodils to peonies.
“It has been a great experience and it is wonderful exercise,” she said. “Each row is 75 feet long and they all need hoeing.”
Lemouse also enjoys stitchery and audiobooks.
“I listen to them while I do other things,” she said.
Lemhouse said her goal in 2018 is to complete four oral history projects.
She called reading a “great stimulant.”
“Books, the other coffee,” she said with a smile.
“What a fantastic person to have in your library,” City Administrator Scott McDowell said. “She makes everything so easy. I have been in this business a long time and finding somebody who loves her job as much as Sherri does is wonderful. She truly loves her job as best as anyone can.”
McDowell said Lemhouse’s attitude is always positive and upbeat and it shows because she cares about the library’s patrons and is passionate about everything she does.
“She does amazing things with our library programs and works hard every day to make our library a place people want to come to,” McDowell said. “Our community is very fortunate to have her.”