It’s not just that the Cleburne County Library in Heber Springs needed more space — it did — but libraries are changing from the “shush-type” places of old, the library’s director said.
Zac Cothren, director of the library, said the remodeled library, including a 5,000-square-foot addition and a children’s wing, will open a whole new world for its users.
The $2.2 million construction project is scheduled to be finished in March, he said.
“We basically stripped the old one down to stud walls and slab floors,” he said.
The building will not only have a new look, but a new name: the Mary Wold County Library.
Col. Vernon Wold, formerly of Heber Springs, gave the initial $250,000 to kick off the project.
His late wife, Mary, was a longtime library board member, Cothren said.
“She poured a lot into this library,” he said. “A lot of her vision and the direction she gave the library and her time on the board are what let us even consider doing a library this size.”
The library will increase from 5,000 square feet to just under 11,000 square feet, Cothren said.
He said the original 1983 building was dated in several ways.
“Part of it was space,” Cothren said. “Cleburne County has grown a lot since the time that one was built, but more than space, just the way libraries operate is changing so much.”
“The [former] building, we were short of space for books; everything was crammed. But in the design phase, … we are adding some additional shelving, but in my opinion, that’s not where our focus should be.
“The new part of the building is very technology-focused and very modern-looking.”
The original library had four public desktop computers, Cothren said, “located right by the children’s area. Placement was terrible.
“There’s still a demand for desktops,” and the renovated facility will have 12, he said.
Adding Wi-Fi three or four years ago was a hit, Cothren said.
“It was immediately very popular. Some people don’t have high-speed Internet. Some people who have a laptop can’t afford the monthly fee,” he said. “There was one accessible power outlet in the whole building. I travel with a laptop some, and it’s rarely charged.
“This [new] building, we have put a heavy emphasis on having adequate wiring, an adequate power supply.”
In a world in which technology is changing daily, Cothren said, steps were taken not to be hemmed in.
“One thing we did — we put in a raised flooring system. Let’s say 20 years from now, we only need half the stack space we have, we can take out those shelving units, pop out those floor panels and redo the power supply,” he said. “We are looking down the road with this building.”
Another key feature, Cothren said, will be programming space for children.
“Something we were severely lacking in the old building was programming space in general, actually,” he said.
In the renovated facility, a wing is dedicated to a children’s library.
“We had been doing our children’s programming in a little corner of the building that maybe measured 15 by 10 feet,” he said.
The programs disturbed other patrons. When school groups visited, “they were crammed in like ants,” he said.
The children’s library will be in a glassed-in room.
Not that running amok is going to be encouraged, “but if they’re excited about a book, we want them to be excited,” Cothren said.
A program area will be adjacent to the children’s library.
“There will be seating for 50 adults, and I’d say 75 children,” Cothren said.
It will have stackable chairs and floor mats for children, he said.
“We’re really excited about that,” he said.
“The space we’ve designed for the kids is very unique. I don’t know a way I can even describe it — almost has like a clubhouse feel to it,” he said.
One of the walls in the children’s area has a “false roof line that looks like exterior siding. It almost looks like a backyard clubhouse,” he said. “It’s going to be a really interesting space for the kids to be in.”
A children’s librarian will be hired, said Cothren, who has filled that role to date.
He wants a person “who’s really going to focus on putting together children’s programming, getting out to schools,” he said.
“Cleburne County had done a lot of good, new things over the last five, six years,” Cothren said, “but a lot of things that have been done for community use have been focused on athletic-type kids. Some kids like to study; some are the brainy types, for lack of a better word.
“I love athletics. What we really want with our kids, going forward in the future, we want our kids to be balanced. This addition to the community going forward will help in our kids becoming balanced.”
The library was moved in February 2013 into the old post office, a 1937 Works Progress Administration building.
Cothren said library usage has been down since the facility moved.
“This building wasn’t set up to be a library; we stuck books in every nook and cranny that we could,” he said.
“At least we could be able to be open. Some have to shut down [during a renovation]. Resources are still available, and employees have a job,” he said. “The county let us use this building; we are a county agency.”
The library only has to pay utilities, he said, so it is saving money.
Cothren said the project is being paid for with donations and grants.
“Funds were raised through contributions,” he said. “Cleburne County gave significant monies, so did Heber Springs, but it wasn’t done through a tax increase.
“It’s really been fascinating — we’ve had corporate donations, several grants.”
Cothren said individual donors have contributed as much as $250,000, “down to little 9- or 10-year-old twins who brought in their allowance money and gave us $5 or $10.”
Rooms will be named for some of the benefactors, he said.
Heber Springs High School librarian Shay Cresswell said she thinks the library renovation is “fantastic.”
“I’ve been here all my life,” Cresswell said.
“I remember sitting in the old one downtown, in the corner, as a child. Then they moved to this one. I’d sit in the corner and look at books; we didn’t have chairs,” she said, laughing.
“I just think they’re very forward-thinking and are looking to service children in the community. And we have a lot of retirees in the community, and they’re very supportive of the retirees.”
Cresswell said the project isn’t because of just one or two people pushing for it.
“The community wanted it,” she said. “It’s a real asset to the community.”
The entrance to the building will change, so the address will be different when the library reopens.
The new address will be 1009 W. Main St.
After a year of waiting on the new facility, Cothren said, the end is in sight.
“It’s a strange bag of feelings; it’s very stressful, very exciting,” he said. “The thing that excites me more than the building is the capabilities, the things it’s going to let us accomplish as a library.
“In today’s world, the library’s competing with all these other information sources that used to not be out there. We can provide technology to access that information.”
Cothren also knows what he doesn’t want in the library.
“As far as being a shush-type facility, I don’t want our facility to be run like that.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.