There is no identifying sign on the new Woodneath Library Center itself, nor on Northeast 90th Street leading to it from North Flintlock Road. Yet in the nine months that it has been open, folks from throughout the Northland have flocked to it, as well as people from as far away as Joplin, Mo., and Lawrence.
The programs that attracted many of those people are part of what led the Institute of Museum and Library Services last week to select the Mid-Continent Public Library system as one of five for its 2014 National Medal. The institute is a division of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities.
“Woodneath and the National Medal does say where Mid-Continent is as an organization 50 years after we came into existence,” said Steve Potter, who directs the Mid-Continent Public Library system, of which Woodneath is the newest part.
In addition to the books and digital assets at Woodneath, patrons can find state-of-the-art technology, including a bookmaking machine dubbed the Woodneath Press, and programs for adults and children.
“The library center is a showpiece, but it’s only phase one of two phases,” said assistant branch manager Andie Paloutzian. “The brick, antebellum house next door will be adapted to become our Story Center. We have 32 acres, and the 10-year plan includes an amphitheater, an indoor auditorium, a story-time barn and stone circles for groups to meet outdoors.”
The historic home that adjoins the Woodneath Library Center also explains the lack of signs on the new building.
“The guidelines in terms of landmarks … prohibits us from putting signage out,” Potter explained. “Our hands are kind of tied.”
Potter said the library system hopes to erect some small, blue roadside signs indicating the library’s presence. But even without them, he said, Woodneath is meeting expectations for usage in its first year of operation.
Potter said the $13 million library was on the drawing board for the better part of a decade.
“It was very clear to us when we studied the numbers and the demographics … that there would be exponential growth in the Shoal Creek area,” Potter said. “The Smithville branch was operating well beyond its capacity. I remember three directors ago saying we are going to have to do something in that area.”
Potter said the library system became aware in 2006 that the Crouch family, who owned the historic home and surrounding land, was willing to sell for a public purpose and began moving to acquire the property.
And though the $13 million that the Mid-Continent library system spent on Woodneath came from its property-tax funding stream, $2 million to transform the old home into a Story Center will be raised through private donations and grants, Potter said.
“When people went to the polls and voted for a tax for the library, I think the furthest thing from their minds was funding an adaptive re-use for an antebellum home,” he said.
The library system got a grant from the William T. Kemper Foundation to fund a study of a proper re-use for the old house and has now embarked on a quiet effort to educate funders and set the stage for the Story Center fundraising campaign. Potter said he hopes the Story Center can open its doors in a couple of years, but programming has already begun inside the new library.
“Everybody has a story, and we’d like to help novices develop theirs,” Paloutzian said. “Writing is the traditional method, but it’s not the only one. It can be oral, digital or written storytelling.”
The Woodneath Press book-printing and binding machine — one of 15 Espresso-brand devices owned by U.S
public libraries — was installed for this purpose. So far, customers have printed cookbooks, children’s books, fiction and collections of family history. It’s available for use by appointment. The cost is $5 per book, plus 4.5 cents per page and sales tax.
Another emphasis at Woodneath is collaboration.
The library has established a partnership with The Writers’ Place in Kansas City and persuaded the National Storytelling Network to move its headquarters from Jonesborough, Tenn., to a room at Woodneath. Eventually the Storytelling Network’s offices will take up the second floor of the Story Center, while the first floor will be adapted for storytelling, story recording and other uses.
Woodneath hosts 12 story times for children each month and has averaged 30 to 50 programs each month thus far. They have included a story-crafting workshop hosted by the Heart of America Shakespeare Foundation and a memoir-writing workshop. There have been author talks, film showings, school-group visits and a children’s literacy fair.
Emphasis on events
Along with the latest technology, including automated checkout and return systems, the emphasis on events is what the Mid-Continent Public Library system hopes will keep libraries relevant in this digital age.
“We are trying to figure out what the community wants,” said branch manager Kira Green. “We want to try things to be relevant in terms of space, the collection and programming they want.”
To that end, the library is physically divided — not so much with walls as thematically. There is the main section for adult materials in the center, an area for teens to the south and a children’s area to the north. Adults found in the teen section are gently coaxed to their own section, Paloutzian said. There are six special computers designed for children in the kids’ section.
“We want the entire facility to be a destination,” said Paloutzian. “That’s why there are patios and couches where you can sit and look out on the grounds, a fireplace. We really want people to spend some time here. We’re open Sunday, so you can spend the weekend.
“People use it as a place to study, play, use their laptops,” Green added.
The building is built to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s silver standard of environmental friendliness. Power outlets under the floorboards can be moved around, as needed for customer convenience.
Lisa Behrens of Kansas City attended a story session with her daughter last week. They’ve been coming regularly since Woodneath opened.
“We think it’s great,” Behrens said. “We come up once a week for story time. We check out more books and use the computers and do all the activities. … The story time is well run. We meet lots of people and never have problems finding things to do.”
Mike and Barbara Herrold of Liberty were picking out audio books to take on an upcoming road trip. Mike Herrold worries about the continuing relevance of libraries in the computer age, but he is glad to have Woodneath around.
“Even if nobody uses it,” he said, pointing the stacks, “it’s important to preserve this knowledge for the future.”