If you build it, they really will come. And, when they come, they will have to have a place to park. At least, that is the moral I draw from my own community's greatest success in my lifetime. We built a new library, and we did it right. It may have gotten off to a rough start, but we came through in the end.
After a protracted struggle to settle on a location for an updated and expanded facility, the Franklin County Board of Supervisors, the town of Rocky Mount, and the Franklin County Public Library Board came together to propose a handsome, welcoming library in the heart of the county seat. Two million dollars were allocated to purchase an empty building and turn it into an attractive library.
To this end, director David Bass and his Library Board worked with an accomplished architect and came up with a two-story floor plan that provides plenty of room for stacks, comfortable seating, reference and circulation desks, offices, work rooms, study rooms, activity areas, art exhibits, computer access, and space for children's programming. Thanks to a first-ever capital campaign waged by a Steering Committee of local library advocates, the building was furnished and finished beautifully.
In fact, the willingness of the community to donate to the new library foreshadowed the success of the project. A large group of donors, including one of the building owners, local businesses and industries, civic groups, and concerned individuals, all combined to underwrite the funding required to make what might have been an ordinary public building a showplace for the county.
The dedication ceremony, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, drew a crowd of at least two hundred residents who were treated to an exceptional keynote address by author and former Omni editor Keith Ferrell, as well as appropriate remarks by local officials. The mood at the reception following the ceremony was somewhere between delighted surprise and unbridled joy. I knew as soon as I walked through the building and met the staff that this library was going to draw people like homemade pies at a church supper, and I knew our county had taken an important step toward maturity.
Now, just a month after the dedication, the sweetness of accomplishment has been seasoned by tart, refreshing irony. It seems the town, whose Council had so badly wanted the library in the old business district, was skeptical of the traffic a library would draw. Late in the process, Council decided not to spend the money necessary to upgrade additional parking near the facility. One member went so far as to suggest that "after the new wears off," use would return to the level supported by the old library. But, just a few weeks after the new library doors opened, nearby merchants began complaining that their customers could find no parking on the street. Council decided that a complete reevaluation of downtown parking was needed, and set aside several thousand dollars for consulting fees. As always, it would have paid to ask a librarian.
Right now there are young people whose lives will be influenced dramatically by this jewel of a library. Perhaps somewhere there is a beautiful structure with a fine collection and dedicated staff that sits empty, nurturing no dreams, but I have never seen one. If we build it, they will come. And, they will leave better than they came.
Indeed, one encouraging phenomenon in recent years is the increasing number of libraries that have been rebuilt, renovated, or revitalized. In the Hampton Roads area, public libraries in each of the surrounding locales have either built new centers or expanded existing structures, providing accommodations for growing computer labs and collections of new media as well as traditional library materials. Despite initial concerns that the spread of electronic media might damage the viability of libraries, the rise in computer use has actually increased library attendance as information centers expand their offerings. In many cases, the ability to offer the Internet has enabled libraries to justify new facilities, while serving patrons more fully with enhanced access to information. Rather than being the bane of libraries, computers have helped to usher in a renaissance in library use and visibility.
Please note the following correction to the VLA Paraprofessional Forum 2004 Conference article that was included in the July/August/September issue of Virginia Libraries . Diane Wetterlin, winner of the P. Buckley Moss print, which was a scholarship raffle prize, works for the Virginia Beach Public Library system, not the Virginia Tech University Libraries as was incorrectly reported in the article.