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Committee begins groundwork on new library


A Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System ad hoc committee met Thursday to discuss finding a location and funds for a new library.

“We’ve talked to private individuals and the public as well,” said James Walker, operations manager at MK Distributors. “The general consensus is that it’s probably time for a change, and everyone feels positive about the project.”

The committee said a list has been compiled of possible private donors — though, the members did not discuss the names openly, citing the presence of the media — but the majority of the cost of the new library will most likely be funded through a bond election, they said. Whether the bond will be voted on by itself or attached to other bills hasn’t been decided yet, but both options were discussed.

“If we’re being realistic, there’s no way for us to raise $7-8 million solely through donors in this town right now,” Walker said.

Consultant Tom Nisbett said that if the money is raised through bond elections, private donors would not want to give money until the election is over, so they’d have a ballpark idea of how much they would need to give.

Nisbett also said the committee should keep in mind to involve community and civic leaders to gain support and to work with the politics of the city to accrue the public funds needed.

“The mayor has said she will support whatever decision we choose to make,” committee member Ann Talbot said.***

The committee discussed attempting to pass the fund appropriation in a bond election during an election year, because every incumbent would support a project furthering education and learning in Pine Bluff.

“We must convey to whomever we pitch this that it’s not a closed-door library,” said Linda Banks, ad hoc committee member. “We must have something for everybody, and we have to push the idea of a family friendly and accessible library.”

Nisbett said he has spoken with library officials in Heber Springs, who’ve recently constructed a new library, and he said he gained insight as to what Pine Bluff’s new library will need to be successful.

“Before they built, their research found three things: There’s no such thing as a quiet library anymore, so they created space to make noise; it’s an online world, so they have high-speed Internet and a plug in for your laptop at every chair; and children’s programs are what bring people in,” Nisbett said.

Nisbett talked about bringing in library staff from Heber Springs to assist the committee in their endeavor.

“Newer libraries give you a sense of energy when you walk in,” Talbot said.*** “They make you feel transported to a place you want to be.”

But before any plans for funding or construction begin, the committee agreed the first item on the agenda is to find a suitable location — again, locations along with private funding were not discussed because of media presence.

“We’ve grasped the idea of what we want to do, and everyone is on board,” Walker said. “Now we need to start solidifying a list of prospects for a location, get the ball rolling and prepare a pitch.”

The work is just starting, and Thursday’s meeting is one of many to come in the process of planning and funding the project. But, once complete, the committee members hope the library will serve as a welcoming beacon to all who live in or visit Pine Bluff.

“A library is the one place that crosses every strata of people, color and class,” Talbot said.*** “No one is excluded.”

***This article has been updated from its original version to correct the name of one of the committee members.