Library, family seek mural deal

Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Vicky Hart, left, Emily Van Den Mooter, center and Virlene Bennett discuss the large mural behind them depicting scenes from just about every children’s story imaginable, while visiting the Cassville Branch Library on Tuesday. The mural was painted by artist Freda Selby as a memorial to the late Becky Fischer, beloved children’s librarian from 1991 to 2004, after she passed in July of 2004 at the age of 48 from cancer. Hart and Bennett are Fischer’s sisters; Hart is her twin. The two sisters and family friend Van Den Mooter, are seeking to find a compromise with the library about the placement of shelves covering approximately half of the memorial. While they visit, two teens search for books in the section, which was previously the children’s area, but was rearranged last year after the library received a generous gift from the late Senator Emory Melton, which was used to improve and expand the children’s and teens’ areas. Library staff say the mural was discussed at length at board meetings, and was decided to be kept, but unfortunately, it could not be relocated to the new children’s area and staff sympathize with the family and are willing to hear their concerns at the library’s next board meeting on Aug. 17. Julia Kilmer/

Family distraught by partial covering of mural; library looks to use space best

The Cassville Branch Library and sisters of Becky Fischer, who served as children’s librarian for 13 years, are trying to find a compromise over a mural dedicated to her memory.

On a recent visit to the library, Vicky Harp, Fischer’s twin sister, questioned why the mural, which covers the back wall of the teen section, was partially covered by bookshelves.

Shown is a portion of a large mural that was painted as a memorial to Cassville children’s librarian Becky Fischer, who served the library and community for 13 years, from 1991 to 2004. The mural depicts scenes from classic children’s stories and was dedicated to Fischer due to her love of children, creativity and promoting their vivid imaginations. She died at the age of only 48 in July 2004 from cancer. Contributed photo

Fischer, who was known for her love of children, served the library from 1991 to 2004. After her death due to cancer on July 24, 2004, at the age of 48, the mural, which was painted by Freda Selby and depicts scenes of castles, beanstalks, Goldilocks, Cinderella and other classic children’s stories, was dedicated on April 27, 2005, to reflect Fischer’s love of children and their imaginations.

“The first thing I noticed were the bookshelves covering up the mural,” Harp said. “I wanted to know why this happened. I called the library director and she tried to explain. She said the board thought long and hard about it before deciding to put the shelving up.”

With the anniversary of her sister’s death on Monday, Harp said, through tears, that she wasn’t satisfied with that answer.

“This [mural] is my heart, and my sister, and signifies who she was,” Harp said. “In her eyes, imagination was important to her. That was her dream. Instead of asking for flowers to be donated, we asked for donations to the library instead. This was not just our family giving, but the people of Cassville.”

“Everyone knew ‘Miss Becky,’” said Emily Van Den Mooter, a family friend who visited the library with Harp and sister Virlene Bennett.

“Her passing was a loss to all of us,” said Cheryl Williams, branch manager. “She was an important part of the staff and community. She put the kids first.”

Over time, the children’s area had outgrown its space, but rearranging was not a possibility until last year, when a $25,000 donation from the late Emory Melton was received, allowing the library to expand the children’s and teens’ area, buy new furniture, computers with educational games, and other amenities. Teens received Bistro seats and tables, more privacy and shelving was moved to accommodate readers.

“We needed more space for the children and the best use of space seemed to be to put the teens in the smaller area, and move the children’s section to the bigger space,” Milburn said. “We talked about the mural extensively, and decided to leave it.”

“I knew how Becky felt about these kids, and know she would have been thrilled to see what we’ve done with the kids and teen area,” said Williams, who sympathized with Fischer’s family, telling them during their visit, “I see how this is heartbreaking for you.”

Williams said visitors still notice the mural, and Fischer’s memory and legacy lives on.

Van Den Mooter expressed concern that the family was not contacted about putting the shelving over the mural, and that $7,500 in funds collected through a family-sponsored Relay for Life event for five years after Fischer’s passing, was donated to the library.

“It was our contribution to our sister and the library,” Harp said.

Milburn said unless specific instructions accompany donations, the library utilizes monetary gifts as needed for its patrons.

Rhonda Duff, collections development librarian for the district for 26 years, worked with Fischer.

“Becky was a very sweet and conscientious person,” she said. “She was very creative and loved the kids. Her thoughts were always of what was best for them. She worked tirelessly with fundraising events.”

Duff reiterated that the library had to rearrange because a teen section, included in recent years, needed its own separate area, and the children had outgrown their space.

“There wasn’t enough room for the little kids to play or utilize items; it was really cramped,” she said. “Becky would have not had a problem moving so that the kids had more space, and the teens had theirs. I know [the bookshelves] in the teen section cover a portion of the mural, but [I don’t believe] she would have had a problem with that. Her love and passion was for the kids, so that was what she would have wanted — to make easier access for the children and make it more inviting for them so they could come in and have fun.”

Milburn also sympathized with the family, inviting them to attend the board’s next meeting on Aug. 17 to see if a compromise could be found. One possibility included hanging a memorial plaque.

“I feel for the family, but on the other hand, the library has the right to use the space as needed for the customers,” she said. “Much thought goes into each decision the board makes. Unfortunately, we’re bound by the space that we have. We did a lot of measuring of shelves to figure out how we could best put the books in the teen section [where the mural is].”

“If someone came to the library, they would have no clue who the mural was for or how it got here, because the reason is covered up,” said Van Den Mooter, referring to a small area attributing the mural to Fischer. “There is no compromise for that spot.”

Milburn said the ideal scenario would have been to move the mural to the children’s area.

“In the future, if we have a memorial mural, it will be on removable panels,” she said. “We hope that the family would understand [the library’s issue with space] and that we still have to do what’s best for providing service to our customers, and also know that we still honor Becky’s memory — and that her best legacy is the fact that she gave all these kids this great reading and library experience. To me, that’s the best legacy you can give because it’s your time.”

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