A new era for public libraries around the world begins here
By Laura Goodwin | Photos by Bob Coleman
The newly expanded Fayetteville Public Library is the first of its kind, with more than 80,000 additional square feet of space. In step with forward-thinking libraries around the world, Fayetteville Public Library is moving beyond the bookshelves to offer inventive programs and services.
Designed by MSRDesign of Minneapolis, Fayetteville’s Blair Library first opened in 2004. The current expansion by the same team includes contemporary maker and learning spaces and provides equitable access to the high-end technologies that are key to modern literacy.
The library’s new J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Center for Innovation provides an array of technologies for both novices and experts alike. Need to record a podcast or film a training video? The innovation center includes a podcast recording studios as well as A/V production studios for music and film recordings. There’s also a robotics lab, virtual reality and simulation labs, a professional photography studio and much more.
Philanthropist Jane Hunt Meade, a former teacher, understands how hard it can be to engage children and teenagers with books. After touring the new space, both she and her brother, Bryan Hunt, decided to make a gift to ensure that the new spaces would be an attractive and inclusive space for area youth, in addition to being widely available and accessible to all in the community.
“I’m especially excited about all of the additional learning opportunities that the library is creating,” says Meade. “Literacy is incredibly important, but it extends beyond reading, and the Hunt Family Center for Innovation will allow so many kids and adults to become proficient in previously inaccessible activities.” Whether honing an entrepreneurial enterprise, creating a school project or exploring personal creativity, patrons’ efforts will be championed by skilled library staff.
Partnership, which is core to the library’s success, is a significant programming feature planned for the new Teaching Kitchen that includes 16 cooking stations. The library team sought community input to identify local deficits that the expansion might address. Local restaurant owners and chefs helped identify a shortage of trained applicants for back-of-house restaurant jobs.
In addition, Fayetteville High School needed more work-based career and technical education programs. In association with Brightwater, the culinary department of Northwest Arkansas Community College, and Fayetteville Public Schools, the library’s teaching kitchen will offer high school students professional or college credit. Small businesses and culinary entrepreneurs will also have a resource for certification, demonstrations and workforce training.
“I’m so grateful to the library for their foresight,” says Lisa Hotsenpiller, director of career and technical education at Fayetteville Public Schools. “The teaching kitchen will give young people the opportunity to train in a commercial environment… and offer students the extraordinary chance to imagine and prepare for their futures in a real-world setting.”
Some of the earliest public libraries in America were remarkably accessible. Likewise, they empowered individuals who were denied access to formal learning spaces by providing an alternative and safe space to acquire knowledge and exchange ideas. Fayetteville Public Library honors this tradition by incorporating inclusive places where everyone can learn and connect.
“Before the expansion, it was a challenge to meet the community’s need for places to convene and connect,” says Willow Fitzgibbon, director of library services. The expanded library now offers outdoor public spaces, like the new J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Gathering Glade, in addition to the center for innovation, teen library and various meeting spaces inside the facility. “We’re beyond excited to share all the beautiful new spaces, both indoors and out.”
In many areas across the United States, public libraries are a lifeline for the community. They provide books to individuals who cannot afford them, a safe space for children to study outside of the classroom and access to technology for those who wouldn’t have it otherwise.
“Public libraries may be the last great equalizers in society,” notes Fayetteville Public Library Director David Johnson. “They are institutions of true equity.” Johnson helps the library team dream big by aiming to provide the entire community with access to state-of-the-art technologies and learning resources.
There has never been a better time to explore a new passion, to log certified training hours or to pivot a career by mastering new skills. The Fayetteville Public Library invites you to pursue personal passions or discover new interests within an inclusive community of learners.
Consider donating to the Fayetteville Public Library to ensure everyone in our community has a chance to learn, grow and engage each and every day. Your support helps strengthen and empower our community through free and public access to knowledge. For more, visit faylibfoundation.org/support-the-library/donate.