SPECIAL REPORT: Fayetteville Public Library becoming a community staple

Special Report

"The library is positioning itself, listening to our community and saying 'What do you want more of? How can we position ourselves to improve your life?'"

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — Over the years, the Fayetteville Public Library has evolved; changing from a place to just borrow books and becoming a staple in the community.

“The library is positioning itself, listening to our community and saying ‘What do you want more of? How can we position ourselves to improve your life?'” said executive director of the Fayetteville Public Library, David Johnson.

The story of a local library started decades ago.

“The Fayetteville Public Library was founded in 1916,” Johnson said. “They had a little library in the bottom of City Hall.”

It moved to a new location on Dickson Street later on.

“It was a 24,000 square foot library that totally fit the needs of the community,” Johnson said. “But as Northwest Arkansas started to grow and Fayetteville started to grow around 1999, they realized we need to grow our library as the community grows.”

36 public input meetings followed.

“Ultimately, they decided we needed a bigger library, we need to move it closer to downtown,” Johnson said. “So the Blair Library was built and opened in 2004.”

The 88,000 square foot facility now sits on the corner of Mountain Street and School Avenue.

“It really changed the way people look at libraries,” Johnson said. “It offered a lot of amenities that libraries really didn’t have before like coffee shops, to large computer labs, and it was very bright and spacious. There are a lot of glass, tall ceilings. And it was really designed more for people than it was for materials.”

The changes helped the library stay relevant, even in this digital age.

“For years, we thought of libraries as just these warehouses of materials,” Johnson said. “But over time, they’ve become more about centers for people. Places for people to come and connect. For people to come and be with each other.”

The facilities are not the only thing that has improved over the years. Building a multicultural staff has been a priority as people from all over the country, and even the world, have moved to the area.

“Some of the challenges for the library is to reflect all of those diverse cultures, all of those diverse materials and things that people need,” Johnson said. “So when you walk in the library, you want to see someone that looks like you, who speaks your language.”

Johnson hoped people feel the impact of the library long after they leave Northwest Arkansas.

“It’s about trying to level the playing field so that everyone can have access to the things they need to be successful,” Johnson said. “I think libraries, if they’re listening to their community, they’re going to continue to reflect back the things that they need.”

The library is currently under construction, thanks to a millage increase from voters. When it’s done, it will be twice as big, with amenities like dance and recording studios, a robotics lab and a multipurpose auditorium.

The expansion is expected to be completed in October 2020.

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