This was a special library visit since Lawrence, Kansas, is my hometown. Of all the visits that we will make this summer, our visit to Lawrence Public Library will probably be the most meaningful to me. In many ways, this library is why I became a librarian and why we are visiting libraries as part of our cross-country adventure.
As a youth, both of my parents worked, so my five siblings and I bicycled to our three summer hangouts: the Lawrence Public Library, the public swim complex, and our Dad’s gas station at 10th and New Hampshire (Cramer’s 66, now Sunfire Ceramics). All were centrally located in downtown Lawrence, all provided essential services. Dad gave us cash, candy, and comic books from the Town Crier; the public pool is where we found our friends and relief from the heat; and the library provided books, air-conditioning, and the resources and atmosphere that allowed us to pursue our independent intellectual interests. One of my favorite childhood summer memories is sprawling on the bed and floors of my parents’ bedroom (the only air-conditioned room in the house) with four or five of my siblings, spending the afternoons reading. During these summers, bicycles meant freedom and libraries meant discovery.
I’m very proud to be from Lawrence, Kansas, with its free-state mentality and universities. Lawrence was founded by anti-slavery settlers that were successful in Kansas being introduced as a free-state. The Kansas-Missouri Border War was a bloody era in Lawrence, with the Sack of Lawrence in 1856 and Quantrill’s Massacre in 1863. In 1866 Lawrence became the home of the University of Kansas, followed by the establishment of the United States Indian Industrial Training School (now the Haskell Indian Nations University) in 1884.
These traditions of social justice and learning are strikingly evident at the Lawrence Public Library. At the Welcome Desk, you can pick up stickers with the Lawrence Public Library logo with your choice of the original red background, rainbow stripes background (LGBT) or with light blue, pink, and white stripes background (Transgender). The Book Squad Challenge this month is to read a book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist. Programming includes the Social Justice Book Club; DocDiscussions (a film documentary discussion group); Local Authors and Artists Outside (an artist or author talk, followed by a hike), and You are Local History (a local history project to digitize family letters, photos, and other items for addition to the Digital Douglas County History Project). They also provide a free lunch for children age 1-18 years old, Monday-Friday, through the Summer Food Program.
As advocates for libraries promoting wellness and exercise, John and I were open-jaw amazed at all of the related fitness programming at Lawrence Public Library. These include Fitness Fridays (fitness classes offered on Fridays, 7 am, on the library lawn); Bookworms + Waterbugs (stories at the swim complex next door); Name That Tune (a musical fitness adventure); Just Cook @ Your Library (learn to cook healthy meals); Story Walk, and more. During our visit, the library was hosting Jennifer Pharr Davis to speak about her book, The Pursuit of Endurance. Jennifer has hiked more than 14,000 miles of trails on six continents, and is an adventurer, mother, inspiration, and resident of Asheville, NC. We’ll definitely be reading her book and hope to bring her to Appalachian State University to speak next year.
And I have to mention the library building. Remodeled in 2014, the Lawrence Public Library won the AIA/ALA Library Building Award, recognizing excellence in library architectural design. It is a striking addition to downtown, with the corners of the building in glass and a large outdoor plaza. Inside the main entrance, one finds a large open entry-way with coffee-shop and welcome desk, an auditorium, and expanded meeting spaces. Downstairs is a sound recording studio, a local history section, and computer lab that anyone can use--you just need to pick up a login from the desk. Perfect for the out-of-town bicycle tourist returning home.
A wonderful visit to my favorite library. John and I would like to thank the five library staff members that took time to speak with us: Barb Michener, Ilka Iwanczuk, Martha Gronniger, Ruth Hite, and Jake, the librarian/bicycle commuter. It was great talking with you all and we will be back soon.