Panola College's M.P. Baker Library

Written by Teresa Beasley.

A Storehouse of Knowledge

A recent post on Facebook showed a photo of a cabinet of library cards with this wording: “Don’t complain about your research project. This was my Google.” Technology has impacted all facets of our lives, including libraries, which are now referred to as Learning Resource Centers. The M.P. Baker Library at Panola College stays ahead of the curve through the efforts of Library Director Cristie Ferguson and academic librarian Sherri Baker.


Panola County citizens are lucky to have access to multiple libraries, from the special historical collections at the Old Jail Museum, to the Sammy Brown Public Library, to the M.P. Baker Library at Panola College.

Faculty, staff, and students use their Panola College IDs as library cards,” Cristie explains. “Other patrons need a free TexShare card from their local library to gain access to materials at our library. But anyone can visit the library to attend events, such as our Lunchbox Lectures. And access to our WiFi is free.”

Panola County citizens can obtain a TexShare card at the Sammy Brown Library while faculty and students can obtain one from the College library. With that card, patrons can visit any of the other libraries that are members of the TexShare consortium throughout the state and gain access to materials in person. They can also borrow materials from those other libraries through interlibrary loan. ILL allows access to materials from all over the world and those from Texas libraries are usually free.

Much has changed since the M.P. Baker Library was established in a suite of rooms in the west end of the Martha Miller Administration Building. In 1965, a new, two-story building was constructed in the middle of the campus. That building served as the college library for 44 years until 2009, when an expansion project was completed.

The expansion project took the building from 11,000 to more than 31,000 square feet,” Cristie says. “The newly expanded building includes the addition of the Fay Allison Gallery for exhibits, seven study rooms, a 32-student computer classroom, two community rooms, and a large vending area.”

Cristie was not born when the M.P. Baker Library announced in the 1950s college catalog that its collection included 3,000 volumes and nearly 100 magazine and newspaper subscriptions.

Today, the collection has more than 25,000 print books, about 4,000 audiovisual materials, and about 20 magazine and newspaper subscriptions,” Cristie notes.

The reduction in printed magazine and newspaper subscriptions mirrors the change in access to media from online resources. The M.P. Baker Library’s primary mission is to serve as a Learning Resource Center for students and faculty. To meet that goal, the Library offers more than 70 databases, providing access to more than 18,000,000 electronic journals, magazines, newspapers, and streaming audiovisual materials.

We also have a collection of more than 600,000 eBooks,” Cristie says. “As members of the TexShare Consortium, a network of almost 700 libraries administered by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, we are able to offer interlibrary loan services to our patrons. They can borrow and lend almost anything a person could want from another TexShare library for free.”

Only about 10 percent of the College’s more than 2,500 students live on campus, but the M.P. Baker Library’s online presence makes its resources available to all, no matter where they are located.

Our primary focus is to support the curriculum and instruction of the institution we serve, including the off-campus sites of Panola College in Marshall at the Marshall College Center in the Marshall Mall, the Shelby Regional Training Center adjacent to the Center High School campus, the Shelby College Center on the loop in Center, and the 14 high schools in the College’s four-county service area where dual credit classes are offered,” Cristie says.

Librarians provide academic support through distance learning opportunities using ITV equipment and the Canvas learning management system.

We use online tools and web conferencing software so we can offer information literacy instruction and other library services in any way a teacher may request,” Cristie adds.

While the M.P. Baker Library’s focus remains in the higher education academic area, the Library also offers DVDs, audiobooks, and streaming content through subscriptions with various vendors.

Panola College’s librarians have Master’s Degrees in Library Science from the University of North Texas, a program that is accredited by the American Library Association. They stay on top of library trends through memberships in the Texas Library Association, the American Library Association, the Texas Community College Teachers Association, and the Texas Council of Academic Librarians.

The M.P. Baker Library provides a study “comfort zone” for Panola College students, providing access to computers, copiers, audiovisual resources, and now, even a 3D printer. “We added the 3D printer in the Fall 2017 semester,” Cristie says. “Students are not charged to create items needed for their classes, but we do charge a small fee for personal use to cover the cost of filament.”

Using grant funds, the Library has archived historical documents in the Cloud, including The Panola Watchman newspaper issues from 1961-1998, with all other issues currently in the process of being added. Microfilm for the years 1873-1881 and 1896-2016 are also available. Other historical documents are available through the Portal to Texas History linked through the M.P. Baker Library website, including “Black Gold,” oral history interviews about life in the 1970s of African-American communities in Panola County; The Loblolly, published from 1973 to 2003 by Gary High School; The Pony Express student newspaper from 1948 to 2009, when the publication changed to digital format; and multiple copies of books by Bill O’Neal, Panola County resident, former Panola College faculty member, and Texas State Historian.

Libraries have nurtured civilizations for centuries. “The earliest libraries date back to 2600 B.C. People have heard of the Library of Celsus in Ephesus and Alexandria from long ago. And libraries are still here today, because people want access to information. They prefer that information be organized in an easily accessible format,” Cristie says. “Sometimes our library is just a quiet place to study, and that is an important purpose, too. On the survey I administered to our students, the number one reason students said they use the library was to have a quiet place to work.”

The books are there. The online resources are available. But do new college students know how to access these resources? Cristie and her staff members offer information literacy instruction sessions for all new Panola College students, providing a roadmap explaining the methods of true academic research. Students in higher education have to learn to use media literacy skills to discern academically valuable resources from the thousands of links that may result from a Google search.

In the age of electronic access, it is very easy to report fake news and lead others down any path. That’s why it is so essential that people avail themselves of the right to read the information themselves and think for themselves. So far no one has invented an app for that. The library provides a neutral place for citizens to do just that. I get rather passionate about those particular freedoms. Men and women have died to protect those freedoms for us. We have free schools so everyone can learn how to read so they can empower themselves. We strive to give our students the skills they will need as they work on their academics here at Panola, and as they further their education at universities or enter the workforce. Knowledge is powerful; knowledge changes your future. The freedom to read is essential to our democracy!”