The August 2009 flood caused approximately $8 million in damage to the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL), and many irreplaceable volumes were lost. However, thanks to insurance money, and contributions from the Metro government and the Library Foundation, the main branch of the LFPL marked the completion of its refurbishment this past Saturday with its Grand Re-Opening Celebration.
Families and individuals poured through the library doors to see the transformation as explained by the guides during the tours that ran all afternoon, to enjoy Lydia Lee on the harp, and to hear speeches by the Library Foundation President Paul Thompson, and the Library Director Craig Buthod (Janice Cowherd opened the presentation by singing the National Anthem). All in attendance seemed excited with children playing and reading in their section of the library, and adults listening attentively to the tours and speeches.
The celebration wasn't an over-the-top gimmick, but instead let the library speak for itself. The new library boasts a brand new auditorium, a new children's library, and a new teen room that is equipped with state-of-the-art touch screen computers. Those on the tour learned the history of the library, and were given a sneak peak of the library past the shelved books and marble tiles, taking us into the basement to see the new IT department, sorting rooms, and more.
The tour was not led by a bored guide that grudgingly shuffled yawning visitors from one room to the next. The tours during the celebration were conducted by enthusiastic library employees that are genuinely enthused with the library's return to service. Workers from every visited department eagerly greeted the groups and recounted their stories of being at work as the water quickly rose.
This may sound like a bore. After all, who cares about a library's administrative offices? The novelty isn't in the office itself, but in the knowledge that that space laid in ruin only a year ago. The high water mark plaques throughout the lower levels of the library serve as a constant reminder of the destruction and, more importantly, the effort, dedication, and community that went into the reconstruction.
The library, and its re-opening, is not for the sake of itself. Aside from simply dispensing and collecting books, the LFPL provides the community with an array of services for those of any age and walk of life. The library holds hobby and career workshops, hosts speakers, and much more. I was surprised to learn that a patron of the LFPL can receive a discount on the GED test, and it is the only Kentucky library to be a part of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Depository Library Program. The re-opening of the main branch of LFPL is a gift to the community because its major source of assistance is back and better than before.
However, LFPL isn't out in the clear just yet. The teen area, although spectacular already, still needs more work, and the library lost all three of its bookmobiles (one for adults and two for children) to the August waters. The LFPL has not had any bookmobiles to dispatch in almost a year, and there is no telling when the service will return.
Luckily, there are concerned volunteers in place to make sure that the library is fully recuperated. Friends of the Louisville Free Public Library is a 33-year-old organization that help support the library by inviting guest speakers, organizing fund raising events, and holds a series of book sales. Friends of the Library, as they're usually called, will be having an unsorted book sale on June 4th through the 6th at Butler High School. A preview sale will be held for members, and all are welcome to become members for a small fee that will in return continue to aid the library.
I noticed several people huddled around the Friends of the Library display table, and while they could have been interested in the free cookies and punch, I did see many of the visitors sign up and pay dues to the organization. This display of community support did not come as a surprise. After all, this support is largely responsible for the relatively quick and exceptionally impressive restoration of the main branch of the LFPL.
For more information on the library and on Friends of the Library, please visit the LFPL site. You can also visit the main branch of the LFPL to see the changes for yourself, the least of which is the completely refurbished Carnegie Lobby (named after one of the most generous benefactors of the original construction of the library). The Bernheim Gallery (the main hall that connects the Carnegie Library with the north building) currenlty has an photograph and video exhibit depicting the history of the library, the flood damage, and the restoration process.
The photograph above is of a display poster that shows the three bookmobiles submerged in water following the flood.
Photograph of the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library with its red carpet rolled out for the Grand Re-Opening Celebration on May 15, 2010