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story.lead_photo.caption Debbie Rowles holds up a certificate she recently received in recognition for her efforts to improve one's Missouri River Regional Library experience. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Debbie Rowles was recently named Missouri River Regional Library's 2019 Library Ambassador of the Year.

Rowles is a longtime library board and foundation member. Library staff said she is continually recruiting new members of the community to get more involved with the library.

Besides actively recruiting new foundation members, Rowles also encourages members of the community to sign up for their free library card and use the library's many services.

"Debbie has been instrumental in raising the profile of the library and bridging the gap between Cole and Osage counties," MRRL Director Claudia Cook said. "She has worked tirelessly with the business community to showcase the library's value. She is the true definition of an ambassador."

Rowles, who lives in Westphalia, said her time as an educator is a big reason she wants to be involved with the library.

"I taught for 35 and a half years in Bland and Houston, and at the end of my career I was a librarian," she said. "I saw what opening the doors to reading can do. I've been a lifelong reader, so this was just a natural fit because the library is one of the best educational systems we have."

In this time of smartphones and tablets, Rowles said, she's glad to see the library still has a place in society.

"It always will, I think," Rowles said. "I'm a book reader. I don't read on my phone, but I know the new generation does. It still thrills me to see the light bulb go on for an adult or a child when they see what places they can go to when they open up a book. I can get that fix myself here at the library."

To stay relevant, Rowles pointed out, the library offers e-books and e-magazines to download on smartphones or mobile devices.

"We still have the regular books, but the library is a source of educational opportunities," she said. "We offer music, DVDs; we have our bookmobile going out to communities. The kids get to grab books and take them home, and that excites me."

Along with making sure children have additional educational opportunities, Rowles said the library can also be a place for adults to continue to learn.

"We offer all kinds of programs, such as learning about photography, computers, music," she said. "I remember a program about the immigrants coming into St. Louis that I found fascinating. I'm a lifelong learner, and it keeps me involved."

Rowles said it's important for the public to realize the library is much more than books.

"As a teacher, it was an educational resource for me," Rowles said. "I remember going to my first Carnegie Library when I was in Paducah, Kentucky. I enjoyed being surrounded by all the information that was available to me. We couldn't get on our phones and look up something, but I knew I could go to the library because I knew I could go there and do as much research as I needed to there."

Looking to the future, Rowles said, the Missouri River Regional Library has a five-year plan for the Cole and Osage county branches.

"We need to get more on the west side of Cole County," Rowles said. "We do have the bookmobile going out, but that's just temporary, a one- or two-stop at most. Most everybody can get online now and check out a book, but I think we just need to have more of a presence in that area.

"I was a proponent for a long time of having our own building in Osage County, and we have that now, located at U.S. 50 and Route C across from State Technical College," she said. "We had rented a facility, and it was off the beaten path, not easily visible. This will be a permanent thing, and that means we're staying in the community."

At the current library in Jefferson City, Rowles hopes they can get better access to the Adams Street facility. She said they also need to address parking, as the library still rents a parking lot across the street.

To keep the future of the library bright, as Rowles sees it, they need people to volunteer. One way is to be a part of the library foundation.

"We can have as many as 20 members, but right now we only have nine," Rowles said. "It really helps our outreach if we get more people involved. You don't have to join anything if you want to volunteer at the library. Just helping put books back on shelves is a big help."

Rowles said the library is one of the most important resources people look at when they come into a community.

"When people look to change locations, they look at schools, and they look at libraries and what they offer," she said. "I think the library offers a level playing field for everyone."