Living Democracy

Collinsville's Library Boasts Unique History and Bright Future

image of Collinsville libraryThe site of the Collinsville Public Library has always been versatile. In 1925, it was the city’s first public movie theatre. Later, it was transformed into a post office, boarding house, and a general merchandise store.

Today this flexibility is exemplified in the library’s current operations. The library offers a variety of classes ranging from computer to health to reading and hosts book clubs for children aged third through twelfth grade. The library is also invested in outreach opportunities, hosting English as a Second Language classes and reading programs with children at Frog Pond, a mostly Hispanic neighborhood in Collinsville. 

For 24 years the library was housed in a large tin building at the junction of Alabama highways 68 and 11. After the turn of the century, a member of the community donated the current building to the library board, but moving into the building required the town council’s approval.

At the final meeting with the council, townspeople came out in waves to give testimonies about the importance of having a new, functional library in town. The board offered to raise the money for renovations itself and not rely on city funds, and the town council gave their approval.

“It was a long process, almost a decade,” admits library director Jennifer Wilkins. “And the building renovation is still happening in stages. We’re still working on fundraising for the bathroom and kitchen upstairs.”

The library officially opened its new doors to the public in 2009. Along with space for classes, the library boasts 11 computers and free public Wi-Fi, rows of books and movies to be checked out, a conference room, a kitchen, and a multipurpose second story.

image of booksThe renovation of the main floor was finished five years ago, and the upstairs was opened at the beginning of the summer. When the library hosted the Collinsville Study Club’s 85th anniversary and invited the public to the celebration, the top story of the building was officially unveiled.  The space has the potential to be a place for a variety of community celebrations, both large and small. Wilkins says she’s happy to see the space used and hopes the library will host more events in the years to come.

“I’d like to see us really make the best use of the second floor by moving our classes upstairs,” says Wilkins. “Then we’d be able to enlarge the children’ area downstairs—both the physical space and the collection available—and move the genealogy and local Alabama history to the conference room in the back and transform it into a study room.”

The library has become a melting pot for the town. It’s used by a variety of people spanning all ages, backgrounds, and languages who spend their time on computers, browsing the bookshelves, and participating in book clubs or reading classes. Wilkins is proud to host so many people.

“I would love to see the building utilized by the whole community, nights and weekends, to host events and have a kind of  ‘coffee shop’ atmosphere where people come just to shoot the breeze.”

Wilkins says she believes that if the demand were there she could recruit volunteers to help promote and execute the idea. She knows that folks in town take advantage of community events hosted at the library.

Since the upstairs has become available for public use, they have hosted two events: the Study Club open house and a town hall worker’s retirement party, both open to everyone.

image of sign in front of Collinsville libraryShe is looking ahead to another yearly tradition that draws a huge crowd.

“I love hosting the Christmas Open House every year. We do an old-fashioned, full-fledged holiday dinner, and we have some people who join us that don’t have the experience at home.”

Working at the library this summer, I have worked with the library staff to expand the programs offered to children and teens. We have a created a partnership with the Scholastic FACE program—dedicated to “Family and Community Engagement” in children’s literacy—to give books to children in our reading clubs free of charge. With a donation from the Study Club, we were able to fund 80 books for our elementary and teen book clubs, which meet for an hour once a week throughout the month of July.

We have also established a preschool reading program consisting of story time, related crafts and snacks. Each club has a unique reading list tailored to its age group and the programs span from 3 years old to rising seniors in high school. We were able to advertise the programs through Facebook, word of mouth, and bulletins, but the most effective promotion was from inside the library.

In June, the library welcomed Christine Megill from the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama to host “Discovering Science Through Art,” and many children heard about the reading clubs there.

"There’s been a dedicated group of parents and children who take advantage of these free programs,” says Naomi Campbell, a regular volunteer at the library and member of the high school book club. “It’s good to see moms and dads encourage kids’ education even during the summer.”

The programs continue through the last full week in July. Visit the Collinsville Public Library’s Facebook page at facebook.com/CollinsvillePublicLibrary for more information.

By Shaye McCauley
Last Updated: July 17, 2014