HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. — Grace Berray isn't exaggerating when she tells people she was 6 weeks old when the Titanic went down in 1912.
Growing up in Lockport, N.Y. during the Roaring '20s, Berray loved to read and was a frequent visitor to her hometown's library. She recalls the librarians there "were very stern and you had to be very, very quiet" or earn their wrath.
Now 103 and living in Carillon Assisted Living Center on Howard Gap Road, Berray can't get out to visit the library like she used to. So the library comes to her.
Berray is one of 491 county residents enrolled in a homebound services program provided by the Henderson County Public Library that delivers books, audiobooks, CDs and DVDs to those unable to visit the library due to health limitations.
Begun in the early 1980s, the program has grown by leaps and bounds in the last three years under the program's current coordinator, Candis Killam. The former circulation worker now spends her days delivering books to assisted living centers, nursing homes, adult daycare facilities, hospitals and homes.
Since she went mobile three years ago, enrollment in the homebound program has grown by 349 patrons and circulation has increased by an average of 16 percent each year. To accommodate the growth, Killam relies on 14 volunteers who help her with paperwork, record-keeping and deliveries.
Killam's monthly drop-off of books at Carillon has enriched the centenarian's life beyond measure, according to Berray and her daughter, Linda Prichard.
"I'll hear her speak of Candis every week," Prichard said. "If Candis has just come, I'll come and visit and she'll have her walker just stacked with books. She'll call me on the phone and say, 'Oh, Linda, I'm reading about this dog. You've got to read this book.' And then we'll talk about the story."
Carillon has a small library available for residents to browse, and they often pass on books they've read to others. But without the homebound program, Berray said, her only access to the library's vast selection would be her daughter picking up books for her.
"That would be hard for me because there are lots of things going on for me, too," said Prichard, who is 70. "She wouldn't get them as regularly. So this is a wonderful thing for all of us."
Berray's favorite books are biographies and autobiographies. But she's burned through most of those available in large-print format, so Killam has begun bringing an array of other nonfiction books.
"The reason I came to read nonfiction is I like to know how real people grew up," said Berray. "And how they got along, and how they became who they are today. I love to read about the Roosevelts — I think everybody does — and the Kennedys."
When she's not reading, Berray enjoys making scrapbooks, laminated bookmarks and personalized stationary by cutting out and arranging clips from magazines. Killam brings her a new stack of magazines every time she delivers, culled from the library's reading exchange table.
Berray, who once taught flower drying and pressing at a garden center in Rochester, N.Y., favors photo clippings of birds, colorful blooms and animals both wild and domestic for her scrapbook designs.
"I forget what time it is when I'm working," she said. "I forget what day it is, I'm so engrossed. I really am absorbed with this. It's a big hobby for me. I think it has a lot to do with my health. Not my wealth so much, although one time I thought I'd like to put them on eBay."
Killam said whenever Berray "gets an inkling of a new project she wants to work on, she'll call me in between deliveries and tells me to bring craft books and card-making books." That kind of personalized service has made the program popular with Carillon residents, said Activity Director Julie Hayes.
When Howard and Shirley Bell moved into Lake Pointe Landing's retirement community six years ago, they noticed the library there had a limited selection of books. So they contacted the county library and signed up to have homebound delivery on the third Friday of every month for themselves and other readers.
"It's been very well-received among the readers here," said Shirley Bell. "Some people can't get to the library, so they call in and Candis will bring books out for them. For the rest of us, it's a matter of having a selection here at our fingerprints. We can drive there, a lot of us could, but some of us have difficulty walking."
Because Killam picks out books for residents based on their favorite genres and topics, Bell said, the service also introduces readers to authors they might not have heard of otherwise.
"She's doing a great job," Bell said. "I feel for my husband and I, we probably wouldn't read as much as we do with it coming to us."
Information from: Times-News, http://www.blueridgenow.com