The following information is provided and partially written by Garland County Library Director Adam Webb.
Garland County Library Director Adam Webb gave a riveting presentation earlier this month to the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club. Webb outlines the library's past, present and future — illustrating that every step of the way has proven to be just as impressive as the last as the local library continues to thrive and provide for its community.
There has been a library in the community since 1833. The library in Hot Springs predates the State of Arkansas by 3 years, the City of Hot Springs by 18 years and Garland County by 40 years.
That first circulating library in 1883 was founded by Hiram Whittington at the site of the old Majestic Hotel. He wrote to his brother in Boston asking for books so he could start a subscription library. There has been a local library ever since.
This is not a picture of the actual cabin, but a hastily drawn artists rendition:
The following photo is of the library on Valley and Central in 1876:
The library moved a few times between then, most notably in 1891, when the Women’s Christian National Library Association created the first publicly funded library in Hot Springs.
Among the incorporators were famous and influential people of the day — former first ladies Lucrecia Garfield and Sarah Polk, and Sarah Harper, wife of publisher Fletcher Harper of Harper’s Bazaar, Harper’s Weekly and Harper-Collins Publishing.
In 1951, the library became taxpayer-funded and the following building was built:
This postcard hailed the library as “ultra-modern” and widely used by residents and visitors alike. We’ve been striving to make the claims of this postcard true ever since.
Today, the Garland County Library's mission statement is:
The Garland County Library enriches our community by creating and providing essential, meaningful connections — from traditional library materials, to digital resources and to each other through cultural, educational and recreational opportunities.
The library is governed by an administrative board of trustees appointed by the County Judge. It is funded through a millage on real and personal property, not sales tax. It receives about $30 a year for every $100,000 in real and personal property.
For that annual investment, the library provides the following free amenities to the community:
A modern, heavily used library that is open 7 days a week, 60 hours a week that is universally loved by residents and visitors alike
We had over 100,000 visits in the first 6 months of this year alone and in that time, we checked out over 360,000 items. Those numbers are low compared to our historical averages. GCL has 53,000 registered users and countless visitors. We offer around 2,000 programs to the public every year, over 99% of which are free of charge.
A summer reading program to combat the “summer slide”
This year, we have kids read for a total of 36,357 hours. We had 210 kids read for over 100 hours each during the summer.
Zero late fees
We no longer charge late fees, making the library much more user friendly to working families, senior citizens, and people without reliable transportation. When we went fine free, we recovered about 7 years worth of fine income in the lost materials that were returned.
We provide a home delivery service that travels throughout the county three times a week dropping off and picking up requested library materials.
An annual Book Festival
We recently co-hosted the inaugural Hot Springs Book Fest with The Literacy Council and NPC Adult Ed. Featured guests included David Hill and Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine.
Our new-ish mobile app allows for program registration and self checkout.
An environmentally friendly establishment
We are actively working to reduce our environmental impact and have cut our electricity bill in half over the last 3 years.
I mean, we keep missing the mark on what the future is going to hold, so it is best to not speculate too much. Here are some predictions for the year 2020 that were made by brilliant minds of their day:
We wouldn’t need to eat anymore - Ray Kurzweil
Human feet will evolve to being just one big toe - Royal College of Surgeons of England
Nobody will be drinking coffee or smoking - Nikola Tesla
We will have gorilla butlers - RAND Corporation (1984)
Everything will be made out of steel - Thomas Edison
Robots will have taken all of our jobs, leading to a society of “wholesome degeneracy” - Herman Kahn
But the library has some realistic goals it foresees itself meeting in the months and years to come, some of which are already underway:
• Installing lockers that will be funded in full by CARES Act funds from the State of Arkansas.
• Obtaining a mobile library that is funded 50% by the Oaklawn Foundation and 50% by the American Rescue Plan Act. Additional funding has come from library patrons Helen Aylott, Maestro Wilson and Dr. Millie Gore Lancaster.
• A remodel to the current facility that will include a second floor mezzanine.
• A merge with the Saline County Library that is expected to expand current library materials, save money and better serve the residents of Hot Springs Village.
• Creating a community garden and book park. The grant application has been submitted to the State of Arkansas for this project. If the application is rejected, the library will pay for it through its non-tax gifts and bequests fund.
The library offers a large variety of materials like books, DVD's, board games, cake pans, fishing poles, telescopes, Halloween costumes, passes to Mid-America Science Museum and Garvan Woodland Gardens — and so much more. And it can all be accessed with a single (free) library card.
Not to mention the numerous events they host monthly and fun community happenings like the "Show Me Your Library Card" happening in September, which allows patrons to receive discounts at participating businesses when buyers show their library card.
For more information on the library, click here.