You may not find a better blend of history and future in Marion County.
After investing nearly $150,000 for improvements, the Peabody Township Library Board is inviting the public to see just how well the 143-year-old library is positioning itself for current and future generations.
The board is hosting an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday with tours and refreshments to celebrate both renovation and transformation.
Rodger Charles, library director, said the completion of two projects in particular have made a noticeable impact already.
The largest project was a $118,000 effort to make the library, which opened in 1874 and became a Carnegie Library in 1914, accessible to all people for the first time in its history.
Workers renovated the doorway on the north side of the library, and has equipped the entrance with an electric lift.
“(Patrons) can push the button outside and both the lift and the outside door open,” Charles said. “You come straight in to the lift. You can go up and have access to the library, or go down and have access to the basement.”
The community raised funds for the project with a combination of private donations and an increase in the local mill levy dedicated for library operations.
“We didn’t put (the funds) into the library, we put it into a fund so we could do this project because we knew it was coming—we had to,” Charles said.
State funding challenges in recent years prompted the board to begin the renovation project earlier than planned.
“They decided, with the Legislature being the way it is with money, was a little nerve-racking—but we thought it was a good idea to get started on the project,” he said. “It wasn’t supposed to be started until this year, and we actually finished it in January.”
Charles said the project has completely changed the facility.
“I was unbelievably blown away by how much more open the library feels,” he said. “Our north door is now a working to door to the library, just like the front doors.
“But this door has only one set of stairs, and the stairs are actually updated to today’s code versus the old code—they’re easy to walk up,” Charles added. “The other set of stairs, I used to go down and hold on to both sides because it didn’t feel comfortable. Now I can walk these without holding on to any rail. It’s totally natural now.”
The project also included renovating the basement restroom, and equipping it with new plumbing that will provide hot water at the sink for the first time in its history.
Also on tap is a project to add additional lighting in the Ann Potter Reading Room in the basement. Charles said he has the additional fixtures on hand, and is only waiting for a “donation” from an electrician.
If that isn’t enough, within a month or so, the board plans to begin replacing part of the library roof.
“It hasn’t been touched in decades,” Charles said. “That’s going to be another almost $16,000.”
While the accessibility project was underway, Charles and the board took on a second project of interior importance: cleaning and repairing the sizable “Peabody’s Roll of Honor in the World War for Humanity,” a 5-foot by 7-foot painting created by local artist Jack Logan in January 1919.
“I wanted (the painting) out of here while we were doing the renovation,” Charles said. “I didn’t want to take a chance of it getting hurt.”
The painting was transported to the Paint Frame Guild in Wichita, where Pam Vanlandingham cleaned, restored and preserved the painting, including repairing its impressive frame.
“We’re anticipating we aren’t going to have to touch it up again for probably 150 to 200 years,” Charles said. “It is beautiful and it has brought more foot traffic in the library as well. People have been hearing about it. They want to come just to seer the painting.”
Painted on the patriotic background are the names of 183 men who enlisted to fight in World War I. Seven of those names are highlighted with gold paint, signifying the soldiers who were killed in action.
Charles said the project, estimated at $5,000, will be expanded in the near future.
“I’ve got pictures of all the men in gold,” he said. “We’re going to get $1,000, which is all I need. River Mill Woods is going to build me eight picture frames. They will be 8×10 on the left side—and then on the right side I want to tell their story.”
Vision for the future
Charles said the library board wants to do more than simply renovate and maintain the past.
“The library board we have right now, the vision is we want to launch this library to the next generation and beyond,” he said. “We want it to be here for them. We want them to carry on with it. It is such an important piece of our history. It’s our legacy.”
Adding state-of-the-art technology has been key for connecting with young people.
“We are close to the cutting edge of it at this point,” Charles said of the available technology. “I’ve got the most bandwidth in town that’s open to the people. We’ve had 50 megabytes of bandwidth donated to us with a partnership we have with the school district.”
And that is about to change.
“The contract I had is expiring at the end of June,” he said. “If I cancelled it early, it was going to be $500 out of my budget. I let it ride, then got the e-rate funding to cover the balance of it.
“Right now the old system is available to everybody else and anybody coming in with their devices,” Charles added. “At the end of June, we’re switching over and will have 50 megabytes of bandwidth free.”
To take advantage of the bandwidth, the library has purchased a 55-inch smart TV, plus a cart and a DVD player and surround-sound system.
“The plan is this summer we’re going to start showing movies in the library,” Charles said.
“It’s a smart TV, so we can do stuff online with it. There are some groups up in New York who do professional theater and opera—and we can tie into that and have live access streamed in.
“What more do we need?”
Charles is grateful for the vision of the board.
“We have a combination of history and future in this place—we have married the two together,” he said.
“We’ve made it modern, but we’re respecting the historical integerity. We have the historic integrity that the kids can take forward with them.”
Charles pointed to a children’s reading area that is furnished with wooden chairs and a matching table that the library received when it became a Carnegie Library.
“I’ve got patrons who sat in these chairs when they got started in the library,” he said. “They now have grandchildren sitting in those chairs.”
“It’s the coolest.”