Bibliophiles all over the southern half of Wood County had reason to rejoice on January 30, 2016. It was the date of an event they’d been waiting on, quite literally, for decades. Finally, library lovers would no longer be forced to choose between the relatively long commute (especially difficult for the many patrons who have no access to a vehicle and therefore have to rely on bus service to get there) to the main branch on Emerson Avenue and the undersized mini-branch on Blizzard Drive, a one-room facility built in 1973 that had long outlived its intended fifteen-year term of service.

But we no longer have to make that difficult decision, as patrons from the southern half of the county, including areas as far flung as Mineral Wells, Lubeck, Washington and Rockport, have a library branch they can call their own. And, according to branch manager Lindsay Place, they are taking advantage of the grand new facility in impressive numbers. Traffic has increased greatly and they’ve already generated over 100 new library cards in less than a month since the doors initially opened.

The road to the new location was not without bumps and curves, but, according to library service coordinator Rachel Hyde, it was worth every difficulty. Though patrons in the area have long said it was simply unfair that such a large area was being served by a building that was barely larger than a bookmobile, the process of rectifying the problem began in earnest in 2006-2007 with a feasibility study, which confirmed the dire need for a more comprehensive facility. Over the next five years, a three-pronged vision statement was generated. While two elements dealt with general ongoing operations and an upgrade to the main branch’s entrance, the third vital vision was for a highly upgraded, expanded library branch on south side.

With that vision statement in hand, Brian Raitz, director of the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library, asked that a levy be placed on the ballot in 2012 to accomplish two of the three elements of that vision, the main being the creation of the new branch location. Voters in the county proved once again their support of academic and cultural issues by passing the levy.

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It would seem that this would mean all the barriers had been overcome, but life is rarely that simple. Working with library personnel, architects created a plan that included several exciting visual elements, such as an entire wall of windows and aesthetically pleasing wall and floor treatments, as well as a generous amount of space. When the plans went out to bid, though, every single bid greatly exceeded the available budget. So it was back to the drawing board. A more modest and yet still beautiful facility was envisioned. This new plan met the budget and construction began, but even that was not without its issues. Delays due to bad weather pushed the grand opening from the fall of 2015 into early 2016, but, again, it was all worth the wait, as anyone who walks in the doors will tell you.

Upon walking into the building, visitors are greeted by one of the more obvious upgrades: an entire area of internet accessible PCs. The old location had one lonely workstation, whereas the new one boasts nine. Nearby, a study room awaits those who need to study in seclusion or who may be meeting a tutor or study group. Ms. Hyde observed that the study room was being used within the first five minutes of the library’s opening and has been used every single day since. Also on this end can be found the library’s impressive video collection.

Turning away from this end of the library, we see one of the biggest upgrades from the old location to the new: shelf after shelf of books! Ms. Hyde said that they have more than doubled their collection in the transition from the old to the new location. Some of the increase came from other locations, but many are new purchases. Tucked away in a cozy corner near the book collection is a wonderfully fun and stimulating children’s area, where kids are encouraged not only to read but to participate in many enjoyable activities that spark their imaginations.

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Finally, another area that the old location simply could not offer was a meeting space. The conference room is fully equipped with a sink and kitchen appliances so that organizations that gather may heat or refrigerate food items and even clean up when they are finished.

Now that the initial excitement has died down just a bit, the staff has begun to look toward the future. When I asked what new things they were planning or hoping to do, Ms. Place said, “It would be easier to tell you what we aren’t planning.” And then both she and Ms. Hyde began to excitedly recount everything that was already happening, some things that are about to begin, and even some new programs they hope will come to fruition in the near future. In coming weeks, watch for another article that describes all of these thrilling offerings.

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