Joshua Ryan Gibson was 13 when he prayed for guidance about earning his Eagle Scout rank. The answer that came to him again and again was to build a library. With the unconditional support of his family and the inspiration of the great Benjamin Franklin, Josh set out on the journey to bring a library to Templeton, Calif. (pop. 4,687).
Established in 1886, Templeton is one of the oldest and fastest growing communities in San Luis Obispo County. It is also the only one without a library. Residents seeking library materials have to drive to a nearby town or wait for the weekly bookmobile visit.
“Libraries are a great benefit to communities,” Gibson believes, “because they don’t discriminate against anyone. That means free recreation, resources, and information for all.”
The process of completing a community project was not unfamiliar to young Gibson, who had helped his four older siblings earn their highest scouting honors. James built a bird sanctuary, Jonathan constructed a horseshoe pit, Joseph designed and installed landscaping at the fire station, and Jessica raised money that purchased Betsy Ross flags to be flown on Main Street during holidays and special occasions.
Libraries, traditionally, are quiet places of reflection and study, and quietly serving their fellow man is the way the Gibson family serves God. When oldest son James expressed a desire to become a Scout some years back, with no local troop then in existence, Bill and Susan took it on their own to start Boy Scout Troop 101, serving respectively as scoutmaster and den mother for several years. The Gibsons are now active in other service organizations, with five family members currently certified as volunteer firefighters.
In seeking historical inspiration for his library project, Josh found a natural in Benjamin Franklin. As a civic leader, Franklin had understood the value of citizens working for the betterment of their community. As a philosopher, the legendary statesman appreciated the value of the knowledge found in books, believing that this knowledge should be available to everyone. In 1731, Franklin’s beliefs took visible root, when he created the first public library in America in Philadelphia.
Josh’s name was also a source of inspiration. In the Bible, it is Joshua whom God chooses to lead the Israelites after Moses’ death. The Joshua of old was known as a man of faith and action, and young Josh warmed to the task of emulating his namesake.
“Josh’s spirit and enthusiasm are the cornerstone to the Templeton library,” says County Supervisor Harry Ovitt. “His efforts were key to pulling this entire thing together.” The Templeton Library project gained the approval of both the Boy Scout Council and the County Board of Supervisors.
Through the generosity of local businesses, a public meeting notice was printed and mailed to 3,000 homeowners in Templeton. Sixty people attended that first meeting, offering their enthusiastic support, while service groups pledged financial support.
Though not comfortable in the spotlight, Gibson realizes that making presentations, speaking to the press, and even being on television are necessary keys to public awareness of grass-roots efforts like his.
After the project’s steering group, Friends of the Templeton Library, received nonprofit status, donations of books and money began pouring in—and sometimes even books with money tucked inside. One anonymous donor gave $1,000. Officers were elected and fund-raisers planned. Josh wrote out a survey that he and other teens hand delivered to 4,000 residents regarding details and directions of the future library. More than 10 percent of the Templetonians surveyed responded to the questionnaire, far surpassing the 2-percent return rate standard on most surveys.
“In the last 20 or so years,” says County Library Director Brian Reynolds, “several groups have tried to get a library in Templeton, but Josh succeeded in crystallizing the energy. That library is about to become a reality.”
Now 16, Josh has learned a great deal from his Eagle Scout project. “My focus through all of this has been to never cease to do good for the benefit of others.”
Ben Franklin couldn’t have said it better.