Saturday, August 6, 2011

A New Library Spurs Optimism in Oklahoma

Marion Moore Hill (Guest Blogger)

Like most writers, and others who love to read, I adore libraries. Lately I’ve been hearing about such facilities shutting their doors, or reducing hours and services for lack of funds, and that saddens me.

But I’m feeling much more upbeat about the future—for readers, for writers, and for libraries—than I was a year ago.

What’s different? My town has a brand new $8-million library (and community center)! Such “miracles” can happen even in 2011.

I live in Durant, Oklahoma, a town of about 17-18,000. During most of the 40-plus years I’ve lived here, the library was in a white stone building, stately and beautiful but “land-locked” (no room to expand) and seriously decrepit (leaky roof; bathrooms outmoded, at times unusable). Obviously a whole new building was needed, but how to get one with the city already strapped paying for day-to-day operations costs?

Fortunately, my fellow citizens refused to settle for the status quo. The librarian and many library patrons kept agitating for a new facility, until finally our state legislators wangled $1 million in earmarked funds from the Oklahoma legislature to buy an appropriate site. The city then hired an architect and drew up plans, but the project languished for lack of construction funds.

Then the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation of Las Vegas, NV, got involved. Reynolds had owned Donrey Media, a chain of media outlets (newspapers, radio and TV stations, and cable entities) in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Nevada, including at one time the Durant Daily Democrat. The foundation he set up and endowed in 1954 has built many community-focused buildings in those three states since it began.

I was on the publicity committee for the dedication of the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center and Library, so my time for several weeks was taken up with historical research, writing articles for a special newspaper supplement, collecting photos, and scheduling TV interviews for the librarian, all to get the word out about what a special facility the town now had. Like many volunteer jobs, it turned out to be much more time-consuming than I’d expected.

But also like many volunteer jobs, it’s been worth the effort. The library dedication attracted a standing-room-only crowd of citizens nearly bursting with pride. Use of the library is way up, hundreds of new library cards have been issued, and everywhere in town people have been talking with amazed pride about “our new library!” Not even the opening of a new sports complex a few months ago sparked such enthusiasm.

The new facility boasts a computer lab with a rotating schedule of free computer classes, community meeting rooms, special sections for genealogy, children and teens, a black-box theater, and even a café. This truly is a venue that enriches lives in our community.

The book is not dead, folks, nor is the library. Just as e-books haven’t caused the death of printed books—they only offer another choice—libraries are evolving to meet modern patrons’ needs and wants. You can still study or do research in Durant’s library, can still discover a great new author or a fun beach read, but you can also become computer literate, gather in groups, participate in distance learning from a far-off college, do video-conferencing, put on a play, or relax with snacks and a buddy.

To help launch the new venue, I had to put aside the writing of the new mystery in my Scrappy Librarian series. But I’m back at my computer again, with a renewed appreciation of the relationship between libraries and their communities. Our new facility isn’t exactly what a library used to be. But it’s what libraries are coming to be in the 21st century.

Marion Moore Hill is the author of two mystery series, the Scrappy Librarian mysteries, featuring intrepid Oklahoma librarian Juanita Wills, and the Deadly Past series, in which history buff Millie Kirchner investigates crimes involving American history.


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Welcome to Poe's Deadly Daughters, Marion. It's nice to hear some good news about the world of books for a change. And I agree about the positive aspects of the changing functions of libraries. I suspect many of us who own computers have no idea how many people rely on those in the library.

jenny milchman said...

What you (and everyone involved, from legislators to community members) did is wonderful, Marion. I have said on different sites (Lesa Holstein's blog and DL) how libraries all but saved me during my middle school years, and were always a place of fun and respite.

Anyway, I applaud you--and would love to see that gorgeous new facility. My first novel is due out in early 2013--I wonder if the folks at the beautiful new library would allow me to come and visit?