A group of citizens led by the University of Arkansas librarian Julia Vaulx established the Fayetteville Public Library in 1916. The library originally occupied two rooms of the Washington County Courthouse basement, and operated on a budget of $840.15 in its first year. With community support, the library moved to a cottage at East Avenue and Meadow Street, and in 1937 settled in the City Administration building, where they remained for 25 years. The library grew significantly under the leadership of Irene D. Galloway, who became head librarian in 1935. A dedicated fundraiser, Galloway used her "Library Chat" column in the Fayetteville Democrat to solicit "benefactions" and to educate the community about the library's resources.
Following World War II, Fayetteville's economy boomed and its population doubled. The cramped quarters in the City Administration building were strained to the limit, and the decision was made to build.
A New Library on Dickson Street
Planning for a new library began with donations by residents like former director Julia Vaulx, who bequeathed $1,000 to the building fund upon her death in 1955, and by Gilbert Swanson, who donated a site on East Dickson Street, then valued at $35,000, in memory of his mother-in-law, Roberta Fulbright. In July 1959, the City of Fayetteville assumed ownership and operation of the library, and in November of the same year passed a $225,000 bond issue to fund a new building.
Architect Warren Segraves, a native of Fayetteville, designed a two-story building of brick, steel, and glass that opened the library to views of its beautiful site on the southern edge of the Washington- Willow historic district. The building was constructed, furnished, and its grounds landscaped for just over $300,000. Senator J. William Fulbright and over 1,000 guests dedicated the new library on June 4, 1962. In 1966 the Fulbright Foundation presented the library with $13,500 to buy land east of the site for an expansion. In May 1970 the 3,200 square-foot addition costing $90,000 opened for service. In December 1989, the City of Fayetteville purchased the property to the west (a medical office building designed by Warren Segraves) for use by the Fayetteville Public Library. The project, completed in 1992, joined the two buildings and resulted in a 31,500 square foot facility housing the Fayetteville Public Library, Ozark Regional Library System headquarters and the Talking Books service.
On July 1, 1999 the Washington County Library System was established as a result of the dissolution of the two-county Ozark Regional Library System. In 1999, the Talking Books service was split between the Fort Smith Public Library and the Arkansas State Library and the space was converted into a twelve station computer center funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In late 2000, when the Washington County Library System moved to its own facility the space was converted for staff and FPL Foundation use.
On August 15, 2000, Fayetteville citizens overwhelmingly (75%) approved a 1% 18-month sales tax to help fund a new main library. A capital campaign, chaired by Ann Henry, was undertaken to raise funds to complete the project and endow operations. Jim Blair announced a $3 million donation on February 27, 2002. The building was to be named Blair Library in honor of Mr. Blair's late wife, Diane Divers Blair, grandmother and aunt. Groundbreaking was held April 27, 2002 and construction commenced in June. A topping out ceremony was held September 13, 2003. Substantial completion of the $23.3 million 88,000 square foot Blair Library in September 2004 was followed by a month of opening celebrations beginning October 8, 2004. The building's architect is Jeffrey Scherer, FAIA, Meyer, Scherer, Rockcastle, LTD.
FPL Goes Green and Earns National Recognition
LEED Silver CelebrationThe building was the first in Arkansas to be registered with the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program. Blair Library was award the LEED-Silver (NC) certification in the fall of 2006. The building was paid for in cash and is debt-free.
On October 1, 2002, a referendum to establish a 1 mil city library tax was approved by 85% of the voters. On May 20, 2003 the Fayetteville City Council approved ending the inter-local agreement with the Washington County Library System and establishing the Fayetteville Public Library as an independent city library beginning January 1, 2004.
In June 2005, the library won the coveted national Library of the Year award sponsored by Library Journal and Thompson/Gale Publishers. The award was given for outstanding service to the community. In 2006, the library was named an American Landmark Library by TravelSmart newsletter. The library was cited by the New York Times in its travel section.
Funding comes from the City of Fayetteville general and capital improvements funds (55%) and a 1-mil city-wide library tax on real and personal property (28%). Additional income comes from fees, State Aid to Libraries, grants and private gifts. The Friends of the Fayetteville Public Library and the Fayetteville Public Library Foundation, both 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, provide support for special programs and services.
The library employs approximately 40 full time equivalent staff members. In 2008, staff answered over 73,000 reference questions, provided 1,076 programs for children, families, teens and adults, added more than 24,500 items to the collection and checked out more than 1 million items for the first time in its history.
The library's collection encompasses more than 245,000 items, including books, CDs, DVDs, videos, audiotapes, e-books and parenting kits. The library's digital collection includes downloadable audiobooks, e-books and music, as well as over 50 databases covering a wide range of interests including business, music, auto repair and literature. The library is open 64 hours per week. In 2008, 580,361 people visited the library, 49,626 attended programs, and 4,399 used the library's wireless network.