Helping other people comes straight out of the Boy Scout oath. And Houston seventh-grader Luke Mee is a passionate Scout, active in the program since the second grade. Thus, when Mayor Annise Parker ended a visit with Scouts by asking for suggestions to improve the city, Luke had a quick answer: Beef up library hours.
“Luke’s request touched me deeply,” Parker said. “It was so different from the conversations I often have with youngsters who ask for things like swimming pools full of chocolate. … It nearly brought tears to my eyes. I vowed we would do it as soon as financially possible.”
To Parker, it underscored the importance of the city’s public libraries, which slashed hours by 27 percent after a crippling 2010 budget cut. When brighter economic times led the city to restore weekend hours to 15 libraries earlier this year, her honor credited the little boy with the big idea.
On Tuesday, 11-year-old Luke, a student at Pin Oak Middle School and member of Scout Troop 197, will share the spotlight with Parker and library chief Rhea Lawson as the city honors him for his beyond-his-years sagacity.
“I’m kind of excited,” Luke said Monday, anticipating the event at which he will receive honorary certificates and a “small token of gratitude” for his library advocacy.
‘A little disappointed’
Luke will be accompanied to the ceremony by his parents, Houston lawyer David Mee and accountant Celeste Mee, and his brother, 10-year-old Andrew.
The Tuesday ceremony likely will be tinged with disappointment. The city’s restoration of weekend hours did not affect the Mees’ neighborhood library, the McGovern-Stella Link Neighborhood Library, which remains shuttered on Sundays.
“We’re a little disappointed,” Celeste Mee said, “but, overall, we’re satisfied that it’s a good thing and will help more people get to the libraries.”
Luke first met the mayor in December as he tagged along with Andrew’s Cub Scout pack for a tour of City Hall. When Parker sought suggestions, Luke shared his problems accessing the McGovern-Stella Link branch to research a school history project on World War II.
McGovern-Stella Link, the 42-lilbrary system’s second-busiest, operated all days but Sunday, the day most congenial to the Mee family schedule.
With Saturdays filled with other obligations, Celeste Mee frequently found herself leaving work early on weekdays to take Luke to the library. Once she battled traffic from her Greenway Plaza office to downtown’s Central branch to retrieve books for her son.
Still, she insisted that Luke and his two project partners engage in solid library research for their look at Pearl Harbor and the bombing of Hiroshima. Superficial Internet searches were discouraged.
Long after the project was completed, Luke recalled details of his study. “I learned that Japan used two waves of aircraft to send bombs down on the battleships and the hangar ships and were actually going to send a third wave, but decided the Americans probably would be prepared by then and didn’t. Hiroshima was the first use of the atomic bomb; 60,000 people died.”
An avid reader
Celeste Mee described her older son as an avid reader, who typically spends much of his summers with his nose between the pages.
Besides reading, Luke, a lively-eyed boy who hopes to become a doctor, enjoys playing the guitar. He was genuinely impressed by his tour of City Hall. “They had a painting of Sam Houston and I thought that was pretty cool,” he said.
He was impressed, too, with meeting Parker. “She said that at the next round of budgets she probably was going to look into the libraries,” he remembered.
In February, Parker announced that Saturday hours would be restored to 14 branches, and Friday and Sunday hours to the Central Library. Although 41 of 42 libraries now are open on Saturdays, the restored hours do not bring library service up to pre-2010 levels.
Library visitors dropped from a peak 5.7 million in fiscal 2010 to 4.3 million two years later.
Reopened on Saturdays
The 14 branch libraries that got Saturday hours restored in April:
1 Carnegie Neighborhood Library
1 Lakewood Neighborhood Library
1 Looscan Neighborhood Library
1 Mancuso Neighborhood Library
1 Moody Neighborhood Library
1 Pleasantville Neighborhood Library
1 Ring Neighborhood Library
1 Robinson-Westchase Neighborhood Library
1 Shepard-Acres Homes Neighborhood Library
1 Smith Neighborhood Library
1 Stanaker Neighborhood Library
1 Stimley-Blue Ridge Neighborhood Library
1 HPL Express Southwest
1 Morris Frank Library, HPL Express Location