The 82,000-square foot Library Center on South Campbell Avenue hosts some of the Springfield-Greene County Library's major collections and a 150-seat auditorium. (Photo by Steve Pearcy, for the Springfield-Greene County Library District)

Author Ray Bradbury is often quoted as saying “Without libraries what have we? We have not past and future.” In the near future, the Springfield-Greene County Library stands to strengthen itself as a place to gather and share ideas.

Through three different allocations from state and local governments, the library is slated to take in about $11 million for building projects by the end of 2026. The library received a $6 million allotment in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding through the Missouri General Assembly in May 2022, another $4.5 million to construct a new library branch in Republic, and a $500,000 ARPA allotment from the Springfield City Council is pending.

ARPA is a $1.9 trillion federal aid package the U.S. Congress enacted in March 2021 to provide financial aid to families, governments, businesses, schools, nonprofits and others impacted by the economic recesses of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of that $1.9 trillion, $350 billion is going to state and local governments as part of the Fiscal Recovery Fund.

The Office of the Lieutenant Governor will be responsible for administering $6 million “for maintenance and improvements of a library district” that serves Springfield and Greene County, “provided that local match be provided in order to be eligible for state funds.”

In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the Springfield-Greene County Library District took in a little more than $14 million in tax revenue, and so the $11 million in ARPA funding represents dollars for projects that would otherwise require financing and debt.

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Meeting room that can hold a crowd

The Library Board of Trustees Buildings and Grounds Committee first identified $3.8 million in projects. It recommended a $2.75 million obligation to renovate the auditorium at the Library Center, the flagship library on South Campbell Avenue. 

“The meeting rooms, and the 150-seat auditorium at the Library Center, in particular, are in high demand,” Springfield-Greene County Library Community Relations Director Kathleen O’Dell said.

Library meeting rooms in the Springfield-Greene County system are free for public use and can be booked online. O’Dell said the library is one of the few places in Greene County that allows meeting room bookings at no cost.

“Some of our programs have attracted standing-room-only audiences, and we’ve had to turn people away at times, so we don’t get in trouble with the fire marshal,” O’Dell said.

When a popular author hosts a book signing, or when an event is likely to draw in more than 150 people, the library will sometimes rent out meeting space at other venues, or use the main floor of the Library Center as a makeshift event venue for concerts or performances. Nine of the 10 library branches in Greene County have meeting space that is available to the public.

Other renovations across the library system

The Midtown Carnegie Library opened on Central Avenue in Springfield in 1905. (Photo by the Springfield-Greene County Library District)

The committee also recommended some system-wide improvements: $479,300 to renovate the library circulation department, and $375,000 for an automated materials handling unit.

“This is the bulky machinery that allows a person to feed a book, CD, DVD through a return slot, and a conveyor belt with ‘eyes’ recognizes the library sticker code, automatically checks it back in and records the return on a patron’s account,” O’Dell said.

The Schweitzer Brentwood Branch was renovated to hold a sorting machine, and people can return library items through slots on the inside and the outside of the building.

The committee then recommended $1.47 million to upgrade the elevator, water system and boiler at the Midtown Carnegie Library, and $700,000 to redo the floors at the Library Station on North Kansas Expressway. The recommendations bring the total cost to $6 million.

In order to meet a matching funds requirement to receive reimbursements from the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, the library will use $500,000 in matching funds found in a Springfield City Council ARPA bill up for final vote on July 25. The library will also use about $1.26 million from selling land it owned at the Library Center site, for a total of $1.76 million in matching funds.

The library staff estimated it will need about $220,000 in professional services from architects and planners to make the projects happen. The request for qualifications is being drafted at this time, with no definite deadline for requests for proposals to be sought.

Funds must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

A new Republic library branch

The Missouri General Assembly allocated $4.5 million for the design and construction of a library branch in Republic as part of its ARPA spending bill in 2022.

As Republic’s population grows, the library plans to grow with it. The first Republic library branch was built in 1961. It has relocated five times, and now stands just off of Highway 174 in northeastern Republic.

“We know the cost of building a new branch in Republic that accommodates the needs and the tremendous growth in that city will exceed the $4.5 million,” O’Dell said.

So before any renderings, site selections or major planning happens, the staff of the Springfield-Greene County Library District will need to find more money to build a bigger Republic branch.

“We are in the process of requesting additional funds,” O’Dell said. “We’re applying for two large grants, and expect to ask for funding through the Library Foundation, and we may ask the Friends of the Library.”

The library’s impact

From July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, with public gatherings hampered by the public health concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Springfield-Greene County Library District held 555 events for adults and another 130 events for children at 10 different library branches. There were more than 7,100 meetings or events booked at libraries in that time period, and more than 17,000 people took part in meetings and events at libraries.

All told, the 10 public libraries in Greene County had more than 865,000 visitors in 12 months — the equivalent of everyone in Greene County’s population of 291,574 going to the library three times.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger