We had vacationed in “The Natural State” of Arkansas before so knew how incredibly beautiful it is, encompassing thermal springs, vibrant foliage, forested mountains, swift swollen streams and red rock canyons much like Colorado, our home, but unfortunately the weather was wicked when I went to Fayetteville Public Library (FPL) last fall.
Parking in its expansive two story garage, I entered the adjoining structure, aka Blair Library, on an elevator to a sizable lobby and patio of clearly labeled recycling bins, quick internet stands and customers enjoying goodies from Arsaga’s counter at scattered indoor and outdoor cafe tables.
Inside, the enormous balcony is an immediate lure and on sunny days sports fabulous views of the Ozarks beyond the sturdy metal railing preventing the curious from wandering off the roof.
A big TV touts tutoring on Tuesdays and a sandwich board suggests an interactive virtual 3D tour of the home of architect Fay Jones, an imaginative Frank Lloyd Wright disciple (we marveled at his stunning Thorncrown Chapel the following day).
In a shiny nook in the foyer, a blown up Library Journal cover featuring FPL as 2005’s Library of the Year beside numerous design award plaques shows they deserve the “famous” descriptor.
Stopping at the three person circulation desk, I let them know Steve Litzinger, the director of marketing and communications, had granted permission for photos. Amy L. and Becky confirmed self pickup of holds and that two of the four levels are public.
Excited about the expansion, they said it will increase the existing 88,000 square feet by 82,500. Hoping to move in by October 2020, it’ll add a teaching kitchen and deli and hopefully ensure adequate space for the next couple of decades as the city is experiencing rapid growth and per capita use is twice the US average.
An innovative maker center for graphical and digital production and editing, a virtual reality lab and a “gathering glade” outdoor venue for celebrations and the farmer’s market will be installed. Voters have already approved 26.9 million dollars but the foundation and supporters are soliciting contributions for the additional 23 million needed to fulfill the dream.
The library has 93,000 users but serves all of Washington County and has reciprocal arrangements with nearby Rogers and Bentonville so many inhabitants of the northwestern corner of AR are eligible for free membership. Though the tool collection is temporarily closed, you just need a card and driver’s license to check out fishing poles courtesy of the game and fish commission. Telescopes, MyFi personal wifi hotspots, laptops, and Chromebooks are available too and they hope to soon lend bikes, kayaks and sporting equipment. Borrow ten DVDs for a week and other items for a fortnight.
By the meeting room the palette is striking. Rich purples, deep blues and scarlets are set off by subdued sconces and the soft beacons of pastel neon self check pedestals.
The True Lit Fayetteville Literary Festival is held in this sleek modern area. Registrars ensconced by glowing panels honoring benefactors fill slots for aspiring authors to pitch to agents. A plethora of institutions cosponsor Comics for Teens, The Wizard of Oz, family music and workshops on poetry and how to get published. Students come in and writers and illustrators speak to hundreds of pupils at schools. Some of the action can be livestreamed.
I met “Friend”ly Norna in the large FOL bookstore. She told me even with a permanent spot they do monthly sales and some leftovers go to prisons.
FPL Volunteers bring struggling readers and certified therapy dogs together, offsite borrowing to Head Starts, a roadshow of puppets, music and fingerplay to all daycares and Pre-K ‘s in Fayetteville, “Lending Hands” for homebound delivery and short stories and song to three nursing homes.
Community entities are partners for the grant funded Books and Bites for low income, at risk and food issue constrained youngsters. Emphasizing health, it entertains and enlightens while exposing youths to delicious foods and nutritious recipes.
Curved consoles hold recommendations by a handsome portrait of Jim Blair. Nearby spaces named for Roberta Fulbright and Ann Henry testify to the abiding affection the library generates in kind hearted citizens. To the right, low wavy units in media offer audiovisual materials and books on CD for all ages.
The enlargment can’t be ignored. Easels give information on the project and through myriad floor to ceiling panes hulking black girders are almost always visible.
The rain, the well attended literary gala plus a popular children’s program finishing up made for an extremely busy Saturday. As the short horde departed and the disinfectant brigade started, I meandered over to an aqua alcove where cutouts of butterflies adorn small blue seats matching picture book bins and complementing the oversize chair and hassock perfect for reading to offspring in a skylit recess framed by scenes of wild creatures in their natural environments. Representing the classical elements, the murals, tones and decorations of the four niches variously evoke earth, fire, water and air.
Sadly you can’t climb on the dragon as the fearsome two headed beast could topple over. Pushed into stacks to accommodate today’s event, a papier-mâché monster keeps it company from atop a nearby shelf.
Kids visit animal shelters to read to cats, an enchanting experience for both. Starr Island’s got 18 computers and six touchscreen AWEs to draw on.
In a mauve space Heather Robideaux, the manager of adult services, was preparing for a presentation and we chatted about my blog.
The library started in 1916 and for a long time participated in cooperative agreements with others but in 2004 a referendum determined it would be an independent city organization. Made possible via an eighteen month sales tax initiated in 2000, a capital campaign, and a bequest of $3,000,000 from Jim Blair, its moniker is in memory of his wife, aunt and grandmother. It opened in 2004 at a cost of 23.3 million, the first LEED building in Arkansas. Certified silver in 2006 due to the smart growth of the downtown locale, solar panels, waterless toilets and the green roof’s rain capture system, an astounding 99% of construction waste was recycled or reused.
FPL puts on a Second Sunday Author series, hosts a social services guru and a truck serving free summer lunches for K-12 pupils. Get fit doing yoga, meditation, Zumba and Tai chi, or learn about tiny houses, setting goals, buying a home, credit reports and repaying student loans. A local bank provides three remote returns and there are five book clubs.
On the website, staff picks scroll above as you make a half hour appointment for a reference professional’s advice on starting a resume or tech, genealogy and research assistance. Links lead to job listings, assorted newsletters and request for purchase forms or browse new acquisitions by format and age.
Download music, books, magazines and video, search databases for arts, business, medicine, auto repair, legal, science and regional material. Take online tests, classes and language modules or review the juvenile calendar or loads of nonprofit resources for individuals and associations.
Rachel McCracken had been busy supervising the team wiping down and putting Children’s back in order after the earlier invasion of adolescents had receded, but now had a chance to call Scotty to unlock the Wal-Mart Storytime Room for me.
Fancy illumination on tracks overhead shine on the snazzy stage. Rows of seats and towers of plentiful primary colored wheelie chairs mean guardians don’t have to sit on the floor. To the left of the platform, supply storage also has a sink and cupboards for refreshments at the six weekly story times, two each for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.
The kid’s department is huge, occupying much of the first level. Mindful of cold season, sanitation stations cling to pillars by geometrically shaped upholstered benches and a long blackboard by plump armchairs in Parenting.
Activities pack FPL’s schedule. Past happenings include a performance troupe, comedy, magic and juggling. Snakes and reptiles stopped by, tiny tots had a Buttons and Bows Tea Party and Lego robotics and there was a plant swap and chess tournament.
The upcoming agenda has walking tours and native flora identification hikes, stuffed animal lock-ins and appearances by guitarists, a harpist, vocalists and a handbell ensemble. Adults examine museum specimens, have computer, English, calligraphy, and bear hunting lessons and everyone joins in for gingerbread crafts, a festive concert or caroling in the quaint nearby square.
On the marble steps to the collections for adults and YA’s, reminders to silence cell phones are carved into the stoop.
Tasteful muted hues impart a sense of calm. Sharp edges are few and far between as if the circular desks, rounded fixtures of the Leverenze Room and soaring interior are meant to instill a sense of respite and relaxation.
In the reading hall, green shaded lamps on long tables recall the past. By potted palms and a petrified pine limb, a wall of glass gives onto magnificent vistas.
Local history has research and microfilm machines, thin drawers of maps, 14,000 print items and an image archive. Experts address specific subjects and a comprehensive guide online to planting your family tree highlights extensive microfiche of centuries of broadsheets and gazettes, Cherokee and Choctaw newspapers, official records, village annals, plats and more.
The Otwell Teen Library has tons of manga, new young adult titles, Playaways, and a vast array of stacks. Weird sails pull the eye to sunlit windows high up by the raised roof and odd artwork reminiscent of a gargantuan Tic Tac Toe run amok intrigues. A notice in the Gaming Corner directs you to Reference for the Wii, Xbox and Nintendo controllers or play Parcheesi, Sorry! or Yahtzee. Tweens working together on assignments spread out in the study enclosures.
YA’s assemble Frankentoys, create lovely ornaments or ugly holiday sweatshirts 😉 They go to movies, monthly meetups and trivia nights, volunteer via 7-Up! and give opinions on an advisory board. Life skills classes teach tools and cooking, and there’s instruction on painting, film production, animation, audio engineering and coding.
I felt genuinely welcomed by all the nice employees and was impressed by how many were willing to pose. Reference librarian Amy Nelson-Lamont enthusiastically answered questions and helped me count the computers. Up here, the adult lab has 24, one attached to a scanner, five macs, an assistive technology system, six in Genealogy, 15 in YA and eight in the reading area.
FPL has a budget of around six million and about 45 FTE and a total paid force of 88 or so. Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube accounts keep patrons briefed. Facebook posts photos of parades and prancing dancers, little ones surrounded by bubbles or scooting down gigantic blowup slides, and of audiences listening attentively to diverse lecturers. Clips abound of functions and amusements, didgeridoos and blues bands, Super Science and candidate forums and sessions on hearing loss and dementia.
Last but not least, a peaceful leaf pattern on frosted glass atop tall glossy wood planks forms a sound barrier for a sanctuary with a fireplace and coffee table books.
What a pleasant way to spend some time!
This pretty university town is often near the top of US best places lists. Obviously their forward thinking library is a big factor in those ratings.