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Library perspectives from a ‘newcomer’

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 10:55 a.m. CDT

From Janna Tull Steed


Shortly after I moved here in 1995, the Creston Library was a major issue facing citizens. Even then, the library board was telling us that the Matilda J. Gibson Memorial Library building was inadequate in space and accessibility for current needs. Renovations were eventually made to the existing building, but plans for an addition were abandoned because of the expense involved.

When the proposal to move the library to the former Lincoln School first surfaced, I was puzzled. Wasn’t this question settled the last time around?

I live only a few blocks from the Gibson Library, but I have no emotional attachment to the attractive building. I spent the first 18 years of my life in an Arkansas small town that still tugs at my heartstrings, despite many changes, including a new library. (Crossett, Arkansas, was founded by three Iowa men at the beginning of the 20th Century.)

I believe those who have made public gifts should be remembered and honored, and I value old buildings. My first pastorate involved the restoration of a fire-damaged New England church built in 1885. When I moved here I bought a Victorian “fixer-upper” and renovated it consistent with its original architecture. New construction is not always a better alternative, and both these projects benefit others in the long run.

This was the personal background I brought to library board informational meeting held at Lincoln School, with a tour of the premises afterwards. It became clear why the board had chosen this path to fulfill its responsibilities to local residents.

Board President Ann Coulter made a detailed, factual, and convincing presentation comparing Creston facilities with others around the state. She answered all questions, including mine. I knew she was a competent director of Southwestern’s library, but still the breadth and depth of her knowledge “wowed” me.

This plan and necessary fundraising efforts have drawn support and substantial gifts, but also opposition and criticism. The offer from a development company to buy the Lincoln School property has brought the city council to a crucial — and immediate — decision.

I am grateful for the work and vision of the Library Board of Trustees: Ann Coulter, Calvin Huffman, Connie Maxson, Jean Ide (county representative), Jeromy Brown and Councilwoman Nancy Loudon. The board’s membership is balanced in many ways, but especially strong in educational backgrounds. Mayor Woods and the city council can be thanked for appointing and approving these people. A majority of members are long-time Union County residents and have served the community for years, even decades, on behalf of us all. Jeromy Brown is a new member who brings knowledge from other locals.

Public libraries have been at the heart of American education and life-long learning. That will not change as long as we value knowledge, information, and wisdom.

But libraries have changed and are changing. If there comes a day when printed, bound books are obsolete (I hope not); then libraries will hold E-books or computers or whatever comes after them as repositories of historical, creative, and cultural knowledge.

Change is not easy for any of us. But instead of criticizing those who have practical expertise as well as vision, let us be grateful for their dedication. Let us find a new way to honor the Gibson legacy while we open our minds to an exciting opportunity: creating a library designed for new resources and technology, accessibility, and expanded multi-generational programming.

In regard to the proposed housing development, Creston’s housing needs are great. But they should be addressed thoughtfully and with adequate time to consider all the consequences of any particular offer. In addition, the city council will be breaking faith with its own appointed board if the Lincoln School property is sold to a developer.

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