Magazine article American Libraries

The Day the Roof Fell In: A County Library Director Has an Unusual Reason for Saying He's Had Enough Library Building and Moving to Last a Lifetime

Magazine article American Libraries

The Day the Roof Fell In: A County Library Director Has an Unusual Reason for Saying He's Had Enough Library Building and Moving to Last a Lifetime

Article excerpt

The day the roof fell in

Even under the best of circumstances, building a new library is exciting and difficult. Coping with a building disaster might be described in the same way. My library faced both--at the same time!

The Laurens County (S.C.) Library serves some 55,000 people through a headquarters library in Laurens, the county seat with a population of 12,000, and a branch in Clinton, the county's other major town. By the mid-1980s, our 10,500-sq.-ft. headquarters, erected in 1940 with WPA funds, had become totally inadequate.

In February 1984 the library board received the recommendation from its building consultant that a new 23,000-sq.-ft. library should be built. The recommendation was presented to the county council, but lack of funding put the plan on the back burner.

Late in 1985, a local family offered to donate a tract of land in an excellent location for the site of the new library. The one string attached to this gift was that funding for the new facility had to be available and a contract let within two-and-one-half years. Not a long time to design a building and raise $1.5 million!

An architectural firm was retained, the exterior of the buuilding was designed, and a model was built. Arranging and designing the interior would come later--funding the project had to be addressed immediately! Although a major portion of the money would have to come from the county if the project was to fly, there was practically no chance of total public funding. Public and private financing would have to be combined.

Cockroach wants you!

A volunteer fundraising chairperson, who fully appreciated the need for the new library, was civic-minded, well-known, and people-oriented, was needed immediately. Fortunately, the person who met these requirements was a native son, a retired marine officer, and the vice-president of a locally owned bank. Best of all, he agreed to accept the responsibility!

The benefits of lobbying county and city officials became clear in the fall of 1986 when county council included $800,000 in a capital improvements bond issue for the new library building. the naysayers, who always surface when a project such as this is proposed, were now having to retract their predictions of doom! One of our regular library patrons, an octogenarian, told me very early in the project that I was either a "damned fool" or "crazy" to be proposing this library project in our county. I was determined to show him I was neither.

With a site, a plan, an $800,000 commitment from the county, and the near-certainly of an additional $150,000 LSCA grant, a new library was almost a sure thing!

Private funraising effort included contacting individuals, business, and foundations. The building model was placed in stores, churches, and other public areas. Library supporters and library staff used the model often with the many programs we presented to civic clubs throughout the county. We became experts at moving the model through narrow doors, up and down stairways that had landings at midpoint, and into small elevators.

"Cockroach wants you to join the Add-A-Brick Bunch!" announced bookmarks and posters. County school children were targeted with a campaign endorsed by Carl Anthony Payne, better known as "Cockroach" to fans of "The Cosby Show." Payne is from Lauren County and has relatives there. The children were pleased with the bookmarks and posters displaying Cockroach's picture. …

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