The Rev. Jimmy Elder of First Baptist Church noted Wednesday's reception for Chattahoochee Valley Libraries director Claudya Muller in the Columbus Public Library came the same week as the Jewish festival of Purim, based on the Bible's Book of Esther.
Esther's cousin Mordecai tells her, "Perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this."
Elder, a former Muscogee County Library Board member, echoed that verse when he told Muller, "We offer you our blessings and our gratitude and our love, knowing that the time and season may have changed in your life, but we wish you the best in it, and we know that the time was right for you to be where you have been for us."
During her tenure of more than 11 years, Muller led the library system through dramatic growth:
The number of patrons with library cards more than quadrupled from about 30,000 to about 140,000.
Annual circulation doubled from fewer than 500,000 items to about 1 million.
The number of computers available to the public zoomed from none to more than 300. Free wireless also was added to the buildings.
The budget for library materials more than quintupled from about $150,000 to about $800,000.
Aflac Summer Vacation Reading Program participation increased tenfold from about 2,500 children to more than 25,000.
Judith Tucker, the executive assistant for Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, read a proclamation declaring it "Claudya Muller Day" in the city. Muscogee County Friends of Libraries president John Donohue, Muscogee County Library Board chairwoman Meridith Jarrell and Muscogee County Library Foundation chairman Tyler Townsend announced book endowment donations in Muller's honor.
"I have no doubt the community is better off from her hard work," Townsend said.
Donohue moved to Columbus in 2000, when the now-closed Bradley Memorial Library was the system's headquarters before the Columbus Public Library opened in 2005.
"I look today not just at this magnificent building but think about the programs we have and the high quality staff," Donohue said. " Claudya also served on the board of the Friends, and it has been a very comfortable feeling to have someone of her vast experience and tact and talent to guide us through sometimes difficult times."
Elder quoted the adage that no sailor distinguished himself on a calm sea.
"It's the person who navigates the rocks and the rapids and the rills safely who is praised and admired, and Claudya deserves the highest praise and admiration," he said.
Library system deputy director Gabriel Lundeen presented Muller a wrapped gift on behalf of the staff.
"We want to thank you for the example you set for us, for your passion, your dedication and your leadership," he said. "Just know that you will be missed, and we will aim to live up to your legacy as much as humanly possible."
Jarrell reminded the crowd that the Bradley library didn't have hot water, let alone a modern facility and materials.
"Claudya has helped us bring this library to the community," Jarrell said. " We now have, I believe, a still-state-of-the-art library that will improve, will get better, because that's what Claudya has taught us, to get better."
Through tears and a choked-up voice, Muller responded. She credited the Muscogee County School Board, which owns and operates the county's public libraries, for having "the good sense" to appoint the library board in November 2001.
"With the start of the library board, that then allowed the library to select its own staff, and that's the message I want to leave with all of you today," Muller said. "This building is a nice building. All of our buildings are nice buildings. They have been renovated; they've been fixed up; they're well-maintained. But they're bricks and mortar, and they're just buildings. It's your staff that makes them libraries."
She paused as the crowd applauded. Then she continued.
"And the real gift you can give me as I leave here is that you take care of them," Muller said. "that you nurture them, that you make sure they have money for continuing education, and that you are sure you have enough money to have enough of them so they don't have to double-up on jobs and they don't have to cut hours and they don't have to dig as deeply as they've been digging for you these last couple of years."