Bustling is usually not a word associated with libraries. But the McCracken County Library is not only bustling, it is electric, energetic, and alive. And these words are not usually associated with something that is 100 years old, but they are perhaps the best words to describe this literary lifeblood of the community.
As with many libraries in the early 1900s, the McCracken County Library was born of an endowment from the steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. The resulting majestic Paducah building survived two floods, but a fire on December 30, 1964, would destroy a fourth of the 60-year-old building and collections. In 1970 the newly constructed Paducah Public Library opened its doors to the residents of Paducah.
By 2000, the number of county residents utilizing the library was slowly passing that of city residents, so in response to this growth, the county fiscal court voted in a countywide library taxing district. The library was aptly renamed the McCracken County Public Library.
Today, in response to a significant growth in services and patron usage, the library has expanded, giving the current structure an additional 2,500 square feet on each floor. This $650,000 expansion allows for more elbow room and with 24,000 annual visitors, that’s money well spent.
More Than a BUILDING
Marie Liang, Library Director, believes many people tend to focus on the library as a building, especially with the newly completed expansion. Liang believes the people are what the library is all about. “Too much emphasis is put on the building,” Liang explained. “After all, it is about the people . . . and hopefully we make a difference and improve their lives.”
Liang and her staff strive to improve the quality of life for their community through books, but they acknowledge the relationship is a reciprocal one. “The people who have used our services continuously throughout the years have kept us going,” she emphasized.
Technology VERSUS Tradition
One hundred years ago the Carnegie Library was a place to go for a good book to read or perhaps to study. But times have changed. Today our culture is driven by technology, and the McCracken County Library has responded to these changes with innovation and style. Paducah residents can walk in and find a good book; but they can also play a video game, listen to CDs, go on-line, and check out a book on tape or a movie. The McCracken County Library is one of the most progressive libraries in the state. In fact, the library and its director were recently recognized at the Kentucky Public Library Association Conference with two state-level awards.
Liang received the 2004 Outstanding Public Library Service Award for achievement in providing library services to the people of Kentucky. In addition, the McCracken County Library was the only library in the state to receive the comprehensive level of Public Library Standards—the highest honor given by the Standards Committee.
But all this innovation and technology didn’t come easily to Liang. “I am a traditionalist, and I had a difficult time accepting the idea of video games and coke machines in a library,” Liang says with a laugh. But she has seen the value of moving forward with new ideas like the newly developed “Media Bar” geared toward young people.
100 YEARS and Counting
As the library staff and community celebrate this centenary milestone, it is fitting to look to the past, but Liang and her staff will continue to look forward—to focus their attention on the future. Their mission is to continue to develop and maintain a library that is inviting and useful to people of all ages. From the special collections room and quiet reading room to the young adult media area and the computer terminal area, there truly is something for everyone.
Carnegie, the original benefactor of the library, began
his philanthropic mission because he believed people would use the library as he had when he was a young Scottish immigrant—to read, learn, and grow in knowledge. He believed the result would be a more homogeneous American people. The heart of his gift was not about books or buildings—it was about people, and Carnegie’s philosophy is alive and well today at the McCracken County Public Library.
REMEMBERING the Past in Pictures
In honor of 100 years of library service in Paducah, the Friends of the McCracken County Library is sponsoring a Flood Wall Mural. Muralist Robert Dafford and his team will recreate the majesty of the Carnegie Library one brushstroke at a time. You can be part of this historic project as well.
Funding for the Carnegie Mural is being solicited from the community and friends who would like to be a part of honor- ing Paducah’s library history. Donations made directly to this fund will enable the group to finance the project without using funds that would normally go to the library.