Kris Sheets is the 2020 Recipient of the Carl and Ruth Looney Humanitarian Award

Posted by Monica Hoel
All the kids just call her Miss Kris!

Kris Sheets worked in the administrative offices at her alma mater for 14 years. She felt she wanted a career with more purpose, so one day she took a leap of faith and resigned with plans to pursue a master’s degree in library science – but she didn’t have another job lined up. And yet, on the day of her send-off reception at Emory & Henry, she was offered the job of librarian at the Saltville Library.

She finished her library degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville while working at the Saltville branch. What a lot of people don’t realize is that for the first year and half, Kris worked at the library with no health insurance provided, no retirement plan, no sick days, and not even a full-time salary. She had to make a lot of sacrifices in her personal life.

It is important to point out that Kris’s work is far from ordinary. She has taken a tiny library branch and turned it into a beehive of activity…a safe place for people of all ages…a source of information and technology…a hub for education. This is not a library where people whisper and check out books.

Senior citizens in Saltville count on Kris for help with filling out and submitting paperwork. They use library computers to stay connected with the wider world. She assists them with calls, lining up repairs, and programming their cell phones. For those unable to leave the house, Kris will deliver books to their homes. She even buys and collects cat food for elderly neighbors on a fixed income.

And children, or the “tiny humans” as she calls them, have come to see “Miss Kris” as the source of information, education, entertainment, and a needed hug.

The library’s Halloween event draws as many as 500 kids and adults, and all the children get free books with their candy while also enjoying games and performances. She brings in conservation experts to teach the kids about wild animals. She invites an educator with animatronic dinosaurs who does an exciting, interactive program on the beasts all kids love.

Her summer reading program numbers make it into the thousands each summer. In Saltville. They have crafts, games, educational programs, puppet shows, magicians, and reading, of course. All events are free.

They do special event programming all year long – activities that range from a Lego Club for STEM learning to crafting and painting and journaling events for adults. They work with local banks to promote money literacy for kids and adults. They bring in special guest speakers from Hungry Mother State Park to offer education about wild creatures of Southwest Virginia.

The Saltville Library is a partner with local elementary schools to provide after-school education and free books. In fact, every time a child enters the library, that child gets a free book to take home. Since she began that tradition in 2019, Kris has given away 1600 books.

Kris took advantage of shorter work hours during that first year and a half in order to connect in a meaningful way with her community.  She volunteered at the animal shelter and on the playground construction committee. And she used that time to build partnerships with other non-profits and community leaders who could benefit the many people who use the library. She says her paycheck was smaller, but her world became larger.

Kris is a full-time employee with benefits now; but even when she was only part-time, she put her full heart into making the Saltville Library a place of safety, help, warmth, fascination, and opportunity. Her effusive enthusiasm conveys a genuine love of books and reading and learning – and also a true commitment to finding ways of meeting the needs that come in with every library patron. If Kris were a make-believe, magical librarian in a children’s book, we wouldn’t have to exaggerate much about what she does every single day in this small community library.

The Emory & Henry Alumni Association named Kris Sheet, Class of 2002, the 2020 recipient of the Carl and Ruth Looney Humanitarian Award.

Read a SWVA Today story about Kris here.

  • Kris Sheets, E&H Class of ’02

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