A Belated Happy Birthday

I was scrolling through Facebook a few weeks ago and up popped a memory from late July of 2014. In between memes about the importance of wearing a mask and frustrated despair about the world, it was really lovely to take a moment to remember when our community came together to celebrate our library. It all started with Lawrence voting for a library expansion bill amid the dark time of the 2008 financial crisis and six years later came this picture - a few co-workers are outfitting the front of a building with a huge bow for our grand re-opening. To me, that day was an 18 hour blur starting at 6:00 a.m. to get the stage and sound ready for our opening ceremony, and ending at midnight as we cleaned up from our first Dinner and a Movie showing of Ghostbusters.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The story really starts in March of 2013. We started loading up shelves with materials based on what would go in temporary storage and what would go in the empty building on New Hampshire street that once housed the now defunct Borders Bookstore. 

Fun fact! The location soon became known as “Free Borders” a term coined by Book Squad member Ilka before she was even an employee. We know a great punster when they cross our path! In the first week of moving, our moving truck had the gas siphoned out of it. I guess when you’re moving an entire library you have to plan for the unexpected. I don’t think we were delayed too long, but some of us got tired of standing around and decided to start rolling book trucks up and down 7th street. Kevin and Jeff, our Inter-library Loan team (or ILL thus the ill productions) at the time, created this short movie filmed in mid-century ephemeral film-style!

Brad Takes the Gang on an Adventure

We spent 18 months at “Free Borders.” Most of the operation was in the building, but we had 2 trailers out back to house our administration offices and cataloging department. At the time I worked in cataloging, putting all those genre stickers on DVDs and ordering barcodes. One fun thing about trailer life was we were not alone. A raccoon decided to take up residence under our trailer and would communicate with staff via cryptic scratching on the floor.  Also, something shed its mortal coil in the walls by my desk. We closed off the area with Dexter-style plastic sheeting to mitigate the smell and I burned candles which I’m sure was a violation of our insurance agreement, but you gotta do what you gotta do when the universe has apparently decided you’re the Disney princess of decomposing pack rats.

Fast forward to summer 2014 and we moved from our cozy digs back to our brand new building. The staff got to occasionally take a look at the construction progress and it was really cool to see the transformation from the 1972 building to the award winning modern structure we got to move into. I remember the first time I saw the grand staircase and thinking “it’s really happening!” All the planning and hard work everyone went through was about to pay off.

By spring of 2014 I had moved into a new position as Events Coordinator and got to help plan our grand re-opening. We wanted to present this new building as a gift to the community so Hallmark donated enough bright red ribbon to wrap the building. It was on a spool that weighed about 15 pounds and our very own ILL assistant, Liza MacKinnon created a bow the size of a semi tire that we could use for the ribbon cutting. This was just a few days before we opened the doors to the public, we were still moving in and trying to not be in the way of all of the workers and craftsmen who were completing projects in the building. We wanted to blow people’s minds and had planned a day starting with a breakfast for our various boards, storytimes outside, ice cream in the afternoon (served by some very sweaty librarians), and ending with Dinner and Movie with Downtown Lawrence Inc.

We had a ceremonial passing of the books from our temporary location at an old Borders building. The final book passed was Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and as it was passed to Brad we cut the ribbon and let Lawrence experience their brand new library. The Lawrence High Marching Band played Happy by Pharrell Williams as people poured into their new library. Local musicians like Steve Mason and Danny Pound serenaded folks in our atrium while folks browsed the collection, checked out the new children’s cubbies, and looked at our brand new sorting machine—we used to check all of our items in by hand, talk about a game changer! We finished up the day watching Ghostbusters on Vermont Street and having a couple of well-earned Free State beers. 

That day we had a record-breaking 10,763 checkouts. It’s strange to think back when the library was probably at its 1000 person capacity continually for 9 hours, to today, when the library is eerily silent and devoid of people. I just hang on the hope that we’ll get back to being a bustling community center where folks can meet up for coffee with friends, kids can come to storytime, or you can just read while looking out at Watson Park.

Do you have any memories or pictures of our opening day? We would love to see them if you do! 

-Kristin Soper the Events Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.