It was with great pleasure that I recently joined Eckhart Public Library (Auburn) to celebrate the opening of their new children’s area, The Secret Garden. The theme of the new children’s area is based on Francis Hodgson Burnett’s novel, The Secret Garden, which also shares its centennial with Eckhart Public Library in 2009.
An amazing reception highlighted the day’s events and included a brief dialogue from the book, Tea Time hosted by the Auburn Garden Club, a book signing, and discussions with a master gardener. In between activities, onlookers enjoyed eating popcorn and viewing The Secret Garden the movie, which provided an appropriate and enlightening back drop for the reception. Approximately 250 Auburn residents celebrated the completion of this community project that undoubtedly will be treasured by current and future generations of library patrons.
Following the reception, I had the honor of touring Eckhart Public Library campus led by my expert guides, Carolyn Foley, President of the Library’s Board of Trustees, and her three children. I greatly appreciate the warm welcome I received from Janelle Graber, Library Director, the entire Library Board, Library staff and their 50-plus volunteers, and the hundreds of Eckhart Public Library patrons.
The original building is still as beautiful today as it was in 1909 when Charles Eckhart donated money for a public library in Auburn. The building is adorned with wood floors, stained glass windows, a fireplace surrounded by comfortable reading chairs, and a tile roof. The Library’s exterior and landscape measured up to the standard set by the building’s flawless core. Through a snowy canvas I could see a large commons area with a beautiful fountain in the middle and plenty of green space to enjoy family picnics, a good book, or a needed nap on a warm summer day.
The campus began to take on its current appearance in 1996 when Eckhart added an addition to the original building. A second building, the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center, was dedicated in 2002 and is positioned across the street from the original building. This state-of-the-art genealogy center is managed by Gregg Williamson, who with the help of DeKalb County Historian, John Martin Smith, made the Willennar Center the heart of genealogy research in DeKalb County. Gregg demonstrated some of the Willennar Center’s many digitization projects while describing its vast collection of family and local histories, which the Willennar Center staff catalogs, preserves and restores.
In 2006, a third building was purchased and remodeled for administrative offices and technical services. Recently, two neighboring houses were purchased for the eventual laying of a new parking lot. Last October, Eckhart’s Teen Library, “The Third Place,” was opened in a former Christian Science reading room. The Third Place provides a warm, inviting and safe library and an after-school and weekend refuge for 6th – 12th graders. The Library’s entire young adult collection, including fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, CDs, and its six computers are available for teen use only.
The Third Place stays current with its patrons thanks to the help of its Teen Advisory Group and offers programming such as art lessons, creative writing groups, and technology-focused activities, including a blog that enables teens to write and share reviews of Third Place materials. Eventually, The Third Place staff hopes to open a snack café and introduce programming and competitions for gaming systems such as the Wii.
One of the most remarkable facts about Eckhart Public Library is that all funding for the renovated 1909 main Library, the administrative office building, the houses for the parking lot, The Third Place, and the Genealogy Center have come through individual and business donations, community foundations, and other types of grants. Donations have come in the form of money, time, building materials, and labor. Through the dedication and efforts of its library director, remarkable staff and volunteers, Board members, and patrons, Eckhart Public Library is truly a community library – built, supported, maintained, and cherished by the citizens of Auburn.
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