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New library space will celebrate 'Our Town'

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March, Collinsville residents have been unable to visit one of the most central places in town, the public library. Some good news is that they may not recognize it when they do return.

Jennifer Wilkins, head librarian at Collinsville Public Library, and Collinsville natives Brandi Still and Neil Robinson have been hard at work re-vamping parts of the first floor into a fun new children’s area.

In 2018, the library received a donation of $4,000, the largest donation they have ever received. What would the library do with a donation so big? At first, Wilkins said, the answer was not always so clear.

Wilkins said the library staff “could not envision a way to improve” the library space early on in the process. However, the donation made them “stop and think big” about what they could do to make the space more accessible to all the library fans in Collinsville.

Eventually, she realized that the existing space “had all our kids, middle schoolers, and teens all too close together.” The decision was made to devote the donation to completely revamping the children’s area in the library.

The next step was finding a contractor to take on the project. Neil Robinson agreed to take it on. The construction, which took a year a half, transformed the first- floor space near the library entrance into an engaging space children can enjoy as soon as they come in the door. New resources, such as Kindles, and a play stage will also be available.

The space includes several large windows, one of which is made with barnwood to represent the past, so that parents can look inside.  The area is also visible from Wilkins’ office so that she can supervise play.

After the structure was complete, Wilkins began to think about a theme for how the space could be decorated. She recruited local artist Brandi Still to help her brainstorm. They both came up with a theme, “Our Town,” that they knew would be special to the people of Collinsville.

The area is being designed to reflect the age and history of the building that has been the home of the Collinsville Public Library for over 10 years. The décor also reflects the rich history of the town of Collinsville itself. It was important to Wilkins that the new area “inspire children to learn about the history of the town.”

Still was able to use her skills as an artist to reflect those goals through decorating the structure with a mural that was made with “little vignettes of things that are here or used to be here.”

The central part of the mural is painted on a brick pattern to symbolize the age of the building, which was built in the 1870s. It says “Collinsville” in large blue and yellow letters. Still plans to add an image of the town clock, a beloved symbol in the community, above the letters.

 A landscape of the mountains is included to represent both the town’s location and the annual 5K run that the library hosts.  Other special reflections of Collinsville featured include a barber pole meant to represent one of Collinsville’s oldest businesses, Cook’s Barber Shop, and a quilt.

 One of the windows will be decorated like a ticket booth to represent the history of the library building, which used to be a train depot and a theater in years past.

The most special part of all, however, has yet to be included. Wilkins said that Still plans on painting children in the mural along with a train conducted by late library board member Myles Smith. Wilkins said he was a beloved and important figure in the town. Because of this, his face will be the only one present in the mural.

The project faced some challenges early on. Painting was supposed to begin on March 15, just as COVID-19 hit the state. As a result, Still has only been painting for six weeks. However, Wilkins said the project “should be complete by the end of the summer.”

Wilkins added that she is always amazed to see a new part of the mural as it progresses, and she can’t wait to share it with the community. She has no doubt that the changes will make an impression on library visitors for years to come. “We wanted something that was enduring, and I think we got that.”