HEBER SPRINGS — The staff of the new library in Heber Springs is getting used to a much higher volume of patrons than usual, but Library Director Zac Cothren said it is a good issue to have.
The Mary I. Wold Cleburne County Library opened June 4, and the community has come out in full force to support and utilize the new facility. Checkouts have tripled, children’s programs have expanded, and more people are coming in for new library cards.
“I’m still kind of awestruck when I look around,” Cothren said. “There are things that we’ve wanted to do for years that were prevented for lack of facilities, and that’s not the case anymore.”
The new library is technically a renovation of the previous library, but the new facility is more spacious with defined areas for children and genealogy studies, as well as computers and outlets to accommodate patrons.
Pat Hoisager, children’s librarian, said she is thrilled with the new library. The children’s area is set apart and includes plenty of shelf space to organize books appropriately, computers with educational games and an entire room where programs can be held. The room has a SMART Board that Hoisager uses to show book illustrations, a SMART Table with educational games and a puppet-show area to go along with the books Hoisager reads to the children.
“I think the most exciting thing about this space is the potential,” she said.
Hoisager said the library can now have children’s programs every day without interrupting other library visitors. At the previous facility, children’s programs were limited to Saturdays, and the public computers had to be blocked off so there would be room for the activities.
Monday and Tuesday morning, Hoisager had a pirate-themed children’s program during which children watched a pirate movie, saw a pirate puppet show and made pirate hats to go along with a pirate book.
“We try to have fun with it,” Hoisager said. “I’ve got the dream job. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Cothren said the library’s need for a new facility was identified more than a decade ago, but it was not until 2008 that the need became pressing.
“We added Wi-Fi service, and when we did that, a lot of people started using it immediately,” he said. “The problem was, in the entire facility, there was one electrical outlet the public could plug into.”
In addition to the lack of electrical outlets, Cothren said, there was no room for new books, the four public computers were in the middle of the children’s section, and there was very little space for children’s programming.
The cost of building or renovating a library was daunting, and Cothren said the library staff was not able to put much effort into fundraising.
In fall 2010, Col. Jack Wold approached the library about raising funds for a new facility. Wold’s late wife, Mary, had been a library board member and a fierce advocate for libraries at the local and state levels. The new library is named in her honor.
Wold offered a significant amount of money, along with an anonymous donor who would match Wold’s sum, and the library staff and board began to talk about how to raise the rest of the money for the new facility.
In April 2011, the library publicly announced its plans to raise funds for a new facility. In the meantime, private donors had been sought to contribute, and an architect had been hired to design a set of plans.
“We went really hard at fundraising, especially for the first year,” Cothren said. “When we got a contractor to price out the project based on the set of plans we had been using, it came to $3.7 million. We knew that was going to be impossible.”
Going back to the drawing board, Cothren said, library officials decided to utilize the old building and do an intensive renovation instead of constructing a new building.
“We gutted it to the slab floors and stud walls and built back,” Cothren said. “When it was all said and done, the total cost of this project is going to be in the ballpark of $240 million. That was doable — not easily doable, but doable.”
The money was raised through many private donations of all sizes, in addition to some government funds, and Cothren said the library has recognized every donor through plaques on the walls.
“The county gave us $100,000, and the city gave us $100,000, but by and large, the funds came from private donations,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that this community put that kind of money into this project. It was a needed project and a good project.”
Construction started in January 2013, and the library opened June 4. The opening was delayed by many days of bad weather, but Cothren said he was determined to make sure the building was ready for the start of summer reading programs.
The library has 40,000 items. These include books; movies and magazines; 15 public computers between regular public-access and children-specific machines; and a life-size chess board Cothren said he hopes to utilize in chess tournaments for local students.
The Mary I. Wold Cleburne County Library is at 1009 W. Main St. in Heber Springs.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.