Library turns up heat on money plea

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
John W. Davis, of Davis Stokes Collaborative architectural firm of Brentwood, presents an artist's rendering of the proposed new building for Argie Cooper Public Library to the Library Board in July. (T-G Photo by John Philleo)

There's a big thermometer in front of the Argie Cooper Public Library.

It's a constant reminder of what is needed to reach the goal of raising $1 million through public donations for a new library, for which a total of $3 million is needed.

Bedford County has already pledged $1 million, but the city of Shelbyville has not yet made such a commitment.

According to Betty Jo Jarvis, director of the Highland Rim Regional Library, a one-time appropriation from both the city and county, along with the many donations pledged to build a new library "would set the foundation for a library that would be meet the library's vision of being the heart of the community; the place for everyone to meet, discover, grow."

"They are in a building half the size of what it should be with only a small room for public meetings, a small, overcrowded technology center, and shelving capacity is at its maximum," Jarvis said. "There is no more room for new books without getting rid of older ones."

Jarvis said that the original building plans for a 22,000 square foot building "would double the annual operating costs, approximately $18.00 per capita, about half of the nation-wide average of $31.65 and still less than the cost of the average book."

However, Pat Hastings, head librarian for the Argie Cooper Public Library, said that the building committee chose to downsize the plans to 16,000 square feet, but the design should provide enough space for decades to come.

One of the features planned for the new library is a coffee shop, where patrons can come and read the morning papers "or just a spot for people to come and hang out," Hastings said.

Another feature that is needed is public meeting space, Hastings said, and the new library would provide that.

"Even if they're doing scrapbooking or a book reading, whatever they're doing, they want a small space away from home," Hastings said.

But getting the money together is the main sticking point.

"Who knows, we might be able to build it, but it just doesn't look that way right now ... we need a commitment from the city to begin."

Jennie Feldhaus, the chairman of the library board, said the design would triple the size of the current facility and allow for today's technology to be used, which is a limitation at this time.

As technology progresses, books may change, but she doesn't think the older generation will embrace it.

"We're thinking of a point in time where you get a disk and put it in your book reader, but there's nothing that feels as good as holding a book to me," Feldhaus said.

With the Internet, people are getting more isolated, Feldhaus believes, and the library can be a place that brings them back together. Book readings and classes could be held in the building, she said.

"We want to get the library where it's a lot more user friendly," Feldhaus said.

More parking will be a big plus. Currently, only public parking is available for users and on court days, finding a place to leave your car can be a challenge. Better handicap access is planned as well.

Another idea is to develop an open air park, perhaps with the help of groups such as Leadership Bedford, Feldhaus said. It would be perfect for book reading and a place for teachers to take kids for some outdoor learning, she said.

Even though the new facility will be three times the size, plans are to have space for more expansion in the future. "If we need to expand, the walls are such that we can knock out one end and build to the north," Feldhaus said. "We could double that size if we needed to and not take up parking."

Sara Insell, member of the Shelbyville Garden Club, prepares an arrangement on Monday for a library luncheon, which was scheduled to be held at noon today. (T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)

"What we need is people coming in here that can get a quiet corner," Hastings said. "They don't always check out books, but they want space. That's what we don't have." The new library will have small study rooms to allow for privacy, she said.

Another consideration for the future is the proposed MTSU South campus, which would make the library even more important to the community. Students will want a place to check out resource material and study, but don't want to battle Murfreesboro traffic, Feldhaus said.

"We fit right into that plan here," she said. Prospective employers also look at the educational opportunities in a community and the new library would be a great boon, she said.

Between what has been raised so far and the county's pledge, Feldhaus said they are about two thirds away from meeting their goal, raising almost $2 million, but another million would be needed to complete the construction costs. But the longer it takes, the more the price will go up due to the cost of materials and construction.

"We'd like to see a third from the city," Hastings said. However, at this point, the Shelbyville City Council has not committed to it. The library will have to have all the money in place before the county releases their funding of $1 million.

The current building has housed the library for over 40 years and it is hoped that the new one will last for half a century, Feldhaus said. And with the expansion plans already in place, it could last up to 100 years.

"Bedford County can meet the challenge and discover for themselves what a wonderful place their library could be," Jarvis said.


If you want to make a donation to the future library, donations can be sent to the Argie Cooper Public Library, 100 S. Main St., Shelbyville, TN 37160. For more information, call 684-7323.