Words by Brandy Herr | Photography Aaron Meeks

 

A door opens in front of you. You step through and enter a magical land. You notice children romping and playing with the likes of pirates, dragons, and unicorns. Further on, you stumble onto a

group of people consisting of political and historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Julius Caesar, and Joan of Arc. To the right, a row of doors reaching as far as you can see. Do you want to travel to Ireland, China, or Ancient Rome? How about fantastical locations such as Narnia, Hogwarts, or the Shire? You need only walk through the correct door. Is this a dream? Is this a fantasy? No, it’s the Hood County Library.

Established in 1965, the Hood County Library serves its citizens with access to free reading material, social and educational programs, and in more recent years, advancing technology such as Internet access and digital books. However, in 2012, they began to realize that they could do more. With members of the Library Foundation instrumental in driving interest in the concept of an expanded library, the Hood County Commissioners voted in favor of the expansion in 2017, with the groundbreaking occurring in late January of 2018. The newly renovated and expanded library officially re-opened to the public on May 1, 2019.

The Hood County Library Expansion Project was a labor of love for countless individuals. Because the library serves the community, the community responded in kind by serving the library. The fourth graders of Acton Elementary school hosted a pancake breakfast which raised over $5,000 for the project. Led by the fourth-grade student council, the students played a key role in the planning and implementation of the fundraiser, with assistance from the Granbury Lions Club.

In addition to the civic and educational organizations coming together in support of the project, the Friends of the Library of Hood County initially pledged $50,000 toward the expansion. However, that generous donation nearly doubled when they readily agreed to also assist with funding for the Children’s Area to pay for bookshelves and furniture. An organization that has existed as long as the library itself, the Friends of the Library of Hood County have long been a pillar of support for literacy in the community.

“That is what we do,” said Ann Jalbert, Friends of the Library President. “We help the library pay for children’s summer reading programs and prizes and other wish list items.” In that regard, it was only fitting that they should make their mark by footing the bill for the Children’s Area itself.

The project, which added approximately 10,000 square feet and a second story to the library, was not without difficulty, however.

“One challenge was all the rain that we had during the construction phase,” said Karen Rasco, former Library Director. “It stalled progress, but of course it couldn’t be helped.”

The Friends of the Library were required to close their popular bookstore during the construction and no longer

accept donations of books during that time. The bookstore, which is attached to the library, sells gently used books at low prices to the community to raise funds for their many projects.

“We were all worried that, with the store being closed, how would we get our customers back?” said Jalbert. “Since re-opening in April, our customers are slowly finding us again.”

The Friends of the Library worked hard to keep up the momentum during this interim phase. By staying in touch via social media and their website, along with flyers for the bookstore displayed at the library itself, they were able to ensure that the customer base would still be there when the bookstore returned. When the bookstore did return, volunteers and customers alike received a pleasant surprise.

“Going into the expansion, we were not expecting anything to be done to our bookstore,” said Jalbert. “So, it was a happy surprise when we got the store painted along with new lights and fans. The light color paint and new lighting has improved the store so much. It is so much brighter and more inviting. Our customers are amazed when they come in and comment on how nice the store looks.”

The staff of the Hood County Library were faced with their own challenges, especially when the construction pushed the operational portion of the library into the much smaller American Town Hall next door. Only ten percent of the collection was able to be moved to the temporary location, so the library staff supplemented by offering digital collections through Hoopla and Overdrive/Libby. They also allowed patrons to place holds on items in the collection, which would be waiting for them when they came in.

“We had outstanding support from our volunteers and our patrons in helping us pack and move each time,” said Elizabeth Boyes, Library Circulation Clerk. “The floor plan that was developed was wonderful for the space that we had. We all get along very well which is also fortunate in smaller places!”

The final result was well worth the wait. Boasting two new conference rooms and four study rooms, large picture windows on both levels that overlook the beautiful park, and an open, welcoming atmosphere, the new library is truly a marvel to behold.

“The availability of these new rooms also means that we can offer more programming to benefit patrons and still have enough meeting space for other community groups,” said Rhiannon Graham, Interim Director and Youth Librarian. “For instance, we now are able to offer more after-school programs on week-days, like Code Club and monthly LEGO Club, without prohibiting other groups from using the library to meet.”

Perhaps the most popular addition to the library is the new children’s area.

“The enclosed children’s area has allowed the children and their caregivers to interact without noise restrictions,” said Rasco. “The children are able to play and socialize in a safe environment that was designed especially for them.”

Along with the Children’s Area is the new Teen Space. Reserved exclusively for children ages twelve to eighteen, this area provides a safe location for teens to enjoy.

“I want to remind our teen users that, whether or not they have a library card, this space is available to them to read, study, or just hang out for a bit,” Graham said.

The Hood County Library sought a way to better serve the community, and the community responded. Since the re-opening in May, the library has added or reactivated over 1,500 new cards.

“The community has been so complimentary about everything that has been done!” said Rasco. “They were patient and encouraging during the whole project.”

Thanks to the generosity of community and civic organizations, local schools, and individuals, the Hood County Library is now a beacon of literacy for Granbury and its surrounding areas. Whether material is needed for a school project, a resume is needed to be printed for a job opportunity, or someone simply wants that perfect book to drift off into a faraway land of adventure, the Hood County Library truly has something for everyone in the community it serves.

“What we offer now is more than books,” said Graham. “It is a safe and welcoming space for the community to use and share.”