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Episode 101: Fayetteville Public Library Where Your Imagination Is Your Only Limitation

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IANWA - 101 - Fayetteville Public Library Where Your Imagination is Your Only Limitation

Randy Wilburn [1:00] Folks, you do not want to miss this episode. There's so much great information we can't wait to share it with you. So, without further ado, cue the music.

TZL Open [1:31] It's time for another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas, the podcast covering the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship, and life in general here in the Ozarks. Whether you are considering a move to this area or trying to learn more about the place you call home, we have got something special for you. Here's our host, Randy Wilburn.

Randy Wilburn [2:01] Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host, Randy Wilburn. Well, today, let's just say this is an episode that has been several weeks in the making if you will. It's something a little bit of a departure from how we normally do episodes here at I am Northwest Arkansas. I have cobbled together a walking tour with David Johnson and Heather Robideaux from the Fayetteville Public Library. They were kind enough to invite me down to look at the new expansion, both indoors and outdoors. And I got to tell you, folks, it's absolutely amazing. So, I got so much information on the walking tour. It was probably an hour and a half that those guys were kind enough to spend with me taking me through the ins and outs of what this new expansion would mean for the community. What it's going to mean for each and every one of us that live not just in Fayetteville, but in Northwest Arkansas in general. I think it was 2012. The Fayetteville Public Library was ranked one of the best, if not the country’s best public library. And there's a reason for that. David Johnson and his team of librarians and everybody that works at the Fayetteville Public Library take a certain level of respect and honor to their craft as librarians and just bring us the best that anyone could ever ask for in a city when it comes to a local place to gain knowledge and information. And the Fayetteville Public Library is certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to bringing the best talent and best information to this community. And so, with this expansion, they're adding Teaching Kitchens, Event Center, Center for Innovation, a Movement Room, a Courtyard, that can hold up to 1000 people, that's almost the size of the downtown Fayetteville square. There are so many aspects to this new expansion, and a lot of times, people just hear the dollar signs and say, well, what is all this money going to? Well, if you listen to this episode, I think you will have a much better understanding of where your tax dollars are going. But more importantly, especially for those of you that live in Fayetteville, but more importantly, why so many philanthropic organizations and families have decided to sew into what this library is doing. David Johnson has a vision that's bigger than himself that's bigger than Fayetteville. It's even bigger than Northwest Arkansas. These guys have gone worldwide to bring the best and brightest of an experience to us here at the Fayetteville Public Library. So, let's just jump right in and learn a little bit more about it. And we're going to take you through each section of the library with a bit of commentary from me. That's why I said this is a little bit of a different episode than usual, so bear with me. I think you're going to find real value in this particular episode, so just listen to David and Heather talk with such pride about this expansion and everything it entails; I think you're going to like it. And listen, by the way, all I can do is recommend that when you get a chance, get down to the Fayetteville Public Library and take a tour of the new expansion. It's going to be opening soon as of the date of this podcast. Hopefully, it will be opening in the next few weeks. But of course, with the pandemic being what it is, the opening will be somewhat modified, so stay tuned for more information on that, but I think you guys are going to like what you hear today. Finally, the last thing I wanted to mention is that you will hear some noise in the background in certain sections of the podcast where we were going through actual construction places within the library but trust me, the sound is good. There's a lot of great information here, so enjoy this episode.

David Johnson [6:03] This is the Hunt Family Gathering Glade, the Best Rock amphitheater seating. We just put down the Zoysia grass. It can seat up to 1000 outdoors for programming. We have got it all wired up so that we can put a stage out. We can do movies during the summer, theater drama, ballet, and yoga.

Heather Robideaux [6:28] Endless possibilities.

David Johnson [6:29] Physically, it's as large as the downtown square.

Randy Wilburn [6:35] That's David Johnson talking about the outdoor gathering space, which is basically the courtyard around the new structure at the Fayetteville Public Library. So, if you remember the old building, you could look out on the back and see the library’s back entrance. Well, now there's a huge courtyard there, and it backs up to where the E. FAY Jones Park is going to be in the cultural arts corridor, so it's going to be really exciting. But Dave's going to talk a little bit more about that and also about some amazing airplanes.

David Johnson [7:10] Once the cultural arts corridor comes in, you will be able to come up the sidewalks and come right into the Gathering Glade space. And you're going to get a Scott bridge view of our preschool area and the airplanes.

Randy Wilburn [7:26] This looks like some of the airplanes that were down at Drake field.

David Johnson [7:29] These are airplanes from the Arkansas Air and Military Museum. You saw them there, the Gypsy Moth and the Gyroplane. I'm not sure exactly what model that one is on the other side.

Randy Wilburn [7:47] Are these all working?

David Johnson [7:49] These two are. That one is pieced together and painted in the razorback white and red, but they're on a permanent loan. So, this is preschool; this is for the little kiddos. We will get a chance when we get downstairs. You will see all of that playscape in the area for them to explore and learn. We have an elevator and a grand staircase up and then a beautiful view of School Street.

Randy Wilburn [8:23] The preschool area at the library is just absolutely amazing. When I first walked into the room, the first thing I could think of was the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. It has that feel to it. Can you imagine that being your library? Well, if you live in Fayetteville, that's what you're going to experience. Here's some more as David talks about the Deli at the library. My stomach is getting hungry, just listening to him. Now, who's going to be doing the deli food?

David Johnson [8:56] We are working with Jeremy Gawthrop. He’s with Woodstone Pizza, and he’s guiding us through that process of creating our menu and developing foodstuff.

Randy Wilburn [9:15] That is exciting. You have to get some bacon, egg, and cheese and call it the FPL or something like that.

David Johnson [9:25] We want to have a signature dish and we are working on a book-shaped Panini that will actually have the logo toasted unto the Panini.

Randy Wilburn [9:37] That is special. It’s probably going to taste really good too. You haven't heard the last of this Deli. Later on, David will tell us a little bit more about the impact that he hopes this Deli has on our community. It was just so much information. The next thing we get into is talking about the ceiling lamps in the grade school area, and more importantly, that space behind the library. They actually own it and they have plans for what they want to use it for in the future. Stay tuned. I love these lamps, these hanging ceilings. Those are beautiful.

Heather Robideaux [10:17] One of the feedback we were getting from the parents is that they didn't want us to leave with the computers in the grade school area, so we listened to that and pushed it back just a little bit.

Randy Wilburn [10:33] That is smart. Let them embrace the books first.

David Johnson [10:35] This is part of our parking inventory, and we are adding 110 new parking spaces. We also own that available piece of land back there, and we will be at some point developing that. Many people have approached us with ideas, everything from Bike NWA, a pump track for little kids on bikes, raised bed flower gardens, and boutique hotels.

Randy Wilburn [11:12] And not to be outdone with the parking, but they also have space for all kinds of events that they can hold here at the Fayetteville Public Library and parking for all types of vehicles. They have left no stone unturned when it comes to utilizing the space around the library.

David Johnson [11:32] And then on the corner right there, you can see the work being done on the E. FAY Jones Park. That's the six acres on the other side of that fence that you see hard hands working back there right now.

Randy Wilburn [11:44] Now, is that going to be done in tandem with this?

David Johnson [11:48] They will not be completed with their project until November or December of 2021 for Phase One? And so, we're going to be out ahead of them by about a year. We have a full size loading dock where you can back in an 18- Wheeler and bring in all of our food sources for the Deli and the Teaching Kitchen. It can handle the largest rig out there, so if we have a production in the event center, that is actually a Broadway setup, we can get the trucks in and out of our loading dock. We have got a freight elevator that can move materials wherever we need them.

Randy Wilburn [12:39] There are so many sounds I’m sure you must be inundated all day. There were definitely a lot of crazy sounds going on during this interview but we held it together throughout the whole time of the tour. Now, I want you guys to really focus here because David shared some really important information about one of the biggest challenges that most libraries face and I never thought about it this way. Still, that simple challenge is, how do you address the needs of teens? Because the reality is that we grew up and we go to the library as kids, we don't have a choice, our parents take us there. But as you get older, you have more things that you're interested in outside of the library. How do you engage that audience and David breaks it down and talks about the focus and intent of the Teen’s section at the Fayetteville Public Library and what they hope to accomplish with it? Listen to this.

David Johnson [13:46] And then one of the things that's a challenge for all libraries on the planet is their teens. Generally, once parents are no longer bringing their children to the library, the attendance begins to drop off. It's about the time when all the extracurricular activities are ramping up and so, we've tried to do some things in our team design that we think will draw a bigger audience. One of the important things is teens want to be wherever the adults are not, but adults like to read young adult literature. So how do we balance adults being able to come in and get their hands on the materials, but not necessarily where the youths are. In our design, we will have a librarian sitting here in this area at the desk. We have got the collection up front-loaded. We have their Project Room behind you where all the teams can come in. It's adaptable to do everything from a mock debate to a drama practice, to a robotics tournament. You can do anything possible you want to do in the Team Project Room, but then as we move our way west through the space, we have got a couple of reading nooks on the back with plugs so they can text to their little heart's desire. They get a great view of the court of the Gathering Glade in this space. But as you work your way further to the west, right about through here, NoDo adults are allowed. So, they have two study rooms. They will have two booth seating spaces. No adults are allowed in any of this back here, and this is going to have all kinds of modular furniture that they can move around, mix and seat however they want. They've got a gaming room of their own.

David Johnson [15:55] They have possibly the best view. They can look right down on the E. FAY Jones Park.

Randy Wilburn [16:03] And you can see the Razorback Greenway over here. That's amazing.

David Johnson [16:12] And then from here, you can see that mountain. I've been told it is 30 miles away.

Randy Wilburn [16:22] That's probably across from Devil's Den.

David Johnson [16:25] About 274. I would say that maybe it's beyond West Fort maybe around Winslow. It was on Highway 74. But this is all the teen’s space. We are planning to give them their area that they can own and do what they want to do back here and they don't have to worry about adults interrupting and getting into their space.

Randy Wilburn [17:05] Although, there's a camera, so keep an eye on folks.

David Johnson [17:10] We are not stupid…. (laughter). We realize our investment here.

Randy Wilburn [17:22] I certainly don't want to date myself, but when I was growing up in Teaneck, New Jersey, we didn't have a special acknowledged space for teens. I wish we did but suffice to say that David and his team have thought of everything and it's just impressive what they came up with. We would love to get your thoughts once you see that team space, especially if you have a teenager as I do. My goal is to get them down there, spending as much time as possible. They can text, play games, read and talk to other people and gain additional insight that only the library can provide. Now, I want you guys to listen very closely to what I'm about to share with you next because I think it speaks volumes to the amount of detail that goes into what this library represents and what this expansion represents. After all, David and his team traveled the world. Listen to this story. How many libraries did you guys visit?

David Johnson [18:28] So, we went to approximately seven domestically, everywhere from Seattle Public Library to Atlanta Public Library. I looked at the San Diego Public Library, the brand-new Austin Public Library, the Salt Lake City Public Library, Chicago, Indianapolis. But then we did send our architect and a staff member to Europe, so they toured Denmark, Sweden, the library at Manchester in England. We identified the libraries that are considered the best in the world that were accessible to us. And so that team went over there and came back with a lot of ideas, many of which were those advanced libraries designed for people and not for books. One of the very guiding principles that they brought back was that they're designing spaces for people so that when you get the people in, then they will be attracted to the materials. So, it was a lot of traveling around, and interestingly when we got down and started looking at our innovation center, you will see a mini model of one that we saw in the Orlando Public Library. You will then see some of the different pieces. We are unique. There aren't any libraries around doing everything in one place like we are like the Teaching Kitchen, Event Center, a Center for Innovation, and a Movement Room. Those things may be happening at one-off in different libraries, none of them in a library all in one place. I believe we are already beginning to garner some national attention from other libraries. They hear what we are doing and are getting excited about coming here to see and get ideas from what we're doing to take them home and do things for themselves.

Randy Wilburn [20:53] So, what you're saying is that there's a possibility that you could be one of the top libraries in the country once again?

David Johnson [21:00] Well, you know, we are super proud of being the best library in America and the smallest library to ever win the award. And we will be even more excited to be one of the only two-time winners of the award.

Randy Wilburn [21:15] You have to be thinking optimistically about what could be. This is exciting. I mean, it's not like this is a culmination of a lifetime, but it's the iterative process of what you would hope the library could ultimately become for a community if that makes sense, at least, that's how I see it. And I've only been here a short time, but I've talked to people that are lifers, and they're so proud of the library here and what it represents, and just the way you use it. When we first moved here in 2014, we could not get our kids out of this library. They were here all the time because my wife was homeschooling them. Everybody knew everybody on a first-name basis because they were always here, so I mean, there are some real benefits to that. I have to say that it's impressive what Dave and his team have been able to do by taking examples of other spaces and incorporating that into the dream, if you will, of what this library could be. And so, I look forward to the future and what that holds. But I got to tell you, one of the hallmarks of this new library is the event space. And I just want you to hear directly from David as he breaks down all that this event space entails. You have not seen anything like it ever before. Check this out.

David Johnson [22:43] So, you're looking at a 60-foot by 26-foot full professional stage, two catwalks, all riggings for theatrical, dramatic effects, and a 24-foot video projection for films which can seat 700 and erect seated theater and we will show you how that works when we get downstairs. All of those seating retracts into the wall, and now I have a banquet hall for 500, or I've got a concert standing room only for 1000.

Randy Wilburn [23:18] So, when you had like, what was it Delia Owens when she came here, you could have had her right here, all in one room.

David Johnson [23:27] We have got the cherry wood, sound clouds, all acoustical paneling. We've got L-Acoustics sound equipment, Allen & Heath mixing, and it fits a niche in all of Northwest Arkansas. We have the amp, we have the Walton Arts Center, and we have the Bud Walton Arena. We have small spaces where you can go to George's and other places like that, but we don't have a medium-sized room dedicated to performance. We got the town center but that's not acoustically set up or designed for the types of performance events and author events we will be able to do here. Any type of event you can think of, if you want to take rods and curtain and spread this out and have four smaller rooms for small events, you could bring in a Taekwondo master and teach 300 on the floor. You could have a robotics tournament here. There are so many different things you can do. You could start the morning in a conference setting with vendor tables, and then at lunch, you could spread out and have a banquet that night converted into a lecture hall for a guest speaker. All of that will only take about 20 to 30 minutes to extend the seating.

Randy Wilburn [25:10] And now will there be like a set of on-demand staff for when you have those big events, maybe because if you're not doing it every day, or how's that going to work?

David Johnson [25:20] So, our library staff is currently being trained on how to do all the sound engineering, lighting, and those things. If you want to bring your own, we will step back and oversee, but if you come in and you need somebody to run lights and run sound, we will have staff available to do that. One of the things that we are very sensitive about is that we're not going to give away for free what people in the community are making a living doing, so there will be a tiered charge for the room. If you're a for-profit, if you're a Walmart, if you're a JB Hunt or a Procter and Gamble, and want to use this space for something, there is a for-profit level. Then we have got a non-profit price. And then, if you don't have two nickels to rub together, and it's something the library feels strongly enough about, we will partner with you, and we will figure out a way to make it happen. Any library program that occurs in this space is free. Anything that is library-sponsored will be free, but if Brian Crown wants to rent it out for a rock show and charge ticket prices, then he will pay a for-profit fee for the space.

Randy Wilburn [26:44] I could see that even The Roots doing something here.

David Johnson [26:52] We have got spaces in here for editing down so, if we record a program and do everything in here, we come in real quick, we can edit it, and then broadcast and send out whatever we want. So, it's a super flexible, very high tech, professional space.

Randy Wilburn [27:10] I see. This is really nice. One of the things that Dave reflected on was a story that he shared with me previously about Maya Angelou before she passed away, who had committed to coming to visit the Fayetteville Public Library and speak. Can you imagine that? I mean, we have had some great people, some great writers come and speak at the Fayetteville Public Library, but it would have been nice to have had an Arkansas native, like Maya Angelou, come and speak. But Dave shares this really cool story about that, and the only thing that wasn't cool about the whole story was the simple fact that her health deteriorated so much that she passed away before she could make it up for her committed time to speak at the engagement. But listen to what Dave had to share.

David Johnson [28:02] We were going to be the very last speaking engagement for Maya Angelou and we knew it was going to be a big event. We knew our space was limited, so we arranged with the University of Arkansas to use their Science Lecture Hall. We then decided one of the ways we could control this crowd would be to ticket the event so we had 2000 tickets; they were free, but it was ticketed. We moved 2000 tickets in 28 minutes, but we might not have had to leave campus with this setup. We could have done it all here. And one of the advantages to our Event Center is like I mentioned, but the town center when they do Roots, you pay to lease the town center. You have to pay to put in the staging, you have to pay to bring in the lighting, you have to pay to bring in the sound, and it's just layer on layer. For us, it's all here. You bring the talent. We have got everything.

Randy Wilburn [29:18] When Dave says they have got everything, they really do have everything. You have to listen to the fact that they have a working kitchen for banquet facilities. As I walked through this whole space with David and Heather, I was blown away. They did not leave one stone unturned. Listen to all of the things that this Event Center has at its disposal; you will be amazed.

David Johnson [29:48] But the flow of food from our Teaching Kitchen and where the catering will come from will come through this hallway on this side. So, to our left is the Green Room for where artists and the talent can hang out before it's their turn to come on stage. We are getting it all built. They will have a video monitor that projects what is going on stage, and when they come out, they go right in. Upstairs to the left on the ramp is our Dressing Room, where we have setting counter tables for all makeup changes and clothing changes. We have a Storage Room for all the instrument lockers, boxes and cargo homes, and all that stuff as they come in. This is the kitchen. We got a full-size walk-in refrigerator and a full-size walk-in freezer on the backside. When you come into the kitchen space, the first grill hood that you will see is for the catering piece, which is all on this side and it feeds our Deli, which we will look at in a minute. So, this grill, all of the warming ovens and everything that can be set up here to prepare food to take out for catering can happen here.

Randy Wilburn [31:21] Imagine that a commercial-grade Teaching Kitchen, the Fayetteville Public Library has one. Listen to how this came together and exactly what is included in this Teaching Kitchen and how it marries nicely to the Deli area that they are going to have.

David Johnson [31:41] On the backside of this is where we have the Teaching Kitchen and so, we will have four pods with four students’ stations for a total of 16 students. The instructor’s station will have the dish pit, warming ovens, all of the refrigeration units along the wall and then we will be able to do our culinary classes. Starting on January 6, 16 high school students will come over. Chef Adam Simmons from Brightwater will come down. We will begin our first set of classes for the concurrent credit program in the Culinary Arts for the high school so that you can graduate with an Associate's Degree in the Culinary Arts. All of that instruction will be from seven o'clock in the morning until 10:30 and then, the rest of the day, we will be doing different culinary education and training professionals in this area to go right into the restaurant field. We met with 30 restaurant owners and chefs and talked about the critical shortage of skilled kitchen staff, and we said what if we use this space to teach the restaurant industry like certifications, safe serve, and the others. And so, you can come down, get that certification, and get employed. But the place can also be checked out for any community use as well.

Randy Wilburn [33:26] I was just going to ask you that because I'm thinking here, is this going to be considered a commercial-grade kitchen? So then that means that anybody could make something here and sell outside.

Heather Robideaux [33:39] And certainly, another type of programming that we really couldn't accommodate before was a huge demand for cooking classes and now we finally have the opportunity to offer that to the community much like other programs. Here we will have those kinds of intro-level cooking classes or specialty types of cooking. Maybe a featured cookbook author that can cook some recipes out of their cookbook and broadcast. So, if they're here working and you're sitting from the Deli, you can see and hear what’s going on.

David Johnson [34:23] We have ideas and plans, but the community will help guide us to how they would also want to use the space. And so, both the library program side of things and there, maybe chefs in the making who have ideas but don't have the money to lease a place to develop a menu. You can come down here and do that, or maybe you have a bumper crop of tomatoes in your garden and you don't have a place to can it all. You can come down and do those things here. And so, this is going to be exciting to see how it develops and the demand that we know exists.

Randy Wilburn [35:15] There are not that many commercial-grade kitchens anywhere. Somebody told me there's one in Little Rock and there might be one here, but just getting access to it is a problem.

David Johnson [35:26] I don't think we are going to have a problem drawing attention. But even though, you could say I've got a friend who's a great chef, and I'd like to have 16 of my friends come in and have him teach us how to make XYZ, and you just check the place out for an evening. Maybe you want to offer your friends a Somalia class taught by a local Somalia, so you could just check the space out and go through a course in the evenings on Somalia.

Randy Wilburn [36:03] The opportunities and ideas are endless.

David Johnson [36:05] Well, that's why I say, your imagination is your limitation. So, if you can imagine it, the space will be able to facilitate it.

Randy Wilburn [36:15] What do you think? That's pretty impressive. A commercial-grade kitchen available for your personal use and business use for those of you that want to start a business? I know this pandemic has been a challenge for many people, and many restaurants are having challenges just staying afloat. Still, there’s always going to be opportunities for new cuisine out there. And, who knows, maybe the commercial kitchen at the Fayetteville Public Library is going to be the best testing ground for you before you step out and start spending a whole lot of money trying to get your restaurant idea off the ground. But who would have thought that you could do it at a public library, but at the Fayetteville Public Library, that will soon be possible? The other thing that's really cool about this kitchen area is that it's connected to the Deli, which will be known eventually as the Fayetteville Public Library Deli or the FPL Deli or something along those lines. I think the name is still being worked out. The bottom line is the idea behind this Deli, and what they would hope to achieve with this Deli is pretty special, but I will let David tell you more about that.

David Johnson [37:25] This is also the Deli seating area. It’s all wired up so that we could do open mic nights and have somebody playing guitars or saxophone or piano in this space. This is all the Deli seating around here. And then we have outdoor Deli seating on temperate mornings, lunches, and evenings.

Randy Wilburn [37:50] People could just come down here and say meet me at the library for lunch.

David Johnson [37:53] So here's the Deli. We call it Deli. We don't know if it's going to be a bodega. We don't know what we will call it, but we are doing Deli as shorthand now. But with Jeremy and art conversations, there are certain things we are looking at. We will start simple with soup and salad sandwiches, but the key to what we're doing is that I want people who come to the library to stay and not have to leave to get food. I also want to address the fact that we have people who come to the library and some drive Porsches, and some walk from seven hills. We have a wide range of customers, and I want everybody to afford something at the library, so our design is that all the pricing will be based on covering the costs of labor and food products. All the fixed costs will come out. It’s not a profit-driven model. So, for example, at Wood Stone Pizza, you pay $15 for a pepperoni. I take out all the fixed costs, and that same pizza is less than $5. If we are making a Panini, all the fixed costs are taken out and I can get a Panini for a buck and a half, or I can get a cup of soup for $1. That's the model. I want everybody to find something that they can afford. The other piece of it is this area. It’s no mystery; food insecurity is astonishingly high.

Randy Wilburn [39:38] The pandemic has ripped the band-aid off and we didn't realize it was as bad as it is.

David Johnson [39:44] You all have done an excellent job of putting together a roadmap of places where people can go every day and find a free meal at some kitchen or food pantry. Our goal will be that one day a week, whether it's breakfast or lunch or dinner, we will serve free meals to the community. I think it's ideal for our role in the community for the students and the people who work here to work with people who may not ever get other opportunities to work with and serve other people. So, whether that's a bowl of real hearty rice and beans that will sit on your stomach for a full day, or whether it's a hearty soup with bread or whatever Jeremy will come up with. But I just think that it's important that we fall into that model because we already attract that audience here so let's see what we can do to help on the culinary nourishment side.

Randy Wilburn [41:01] Because every time I come here, I'd see the same people who come here and be here for hours. There's no mystery there, but I think that's great.

David Johnson [41:12] And then even one additional opportunity that we have is city resilience. If we endure another ice storm or another natural disaster, too bad we didn't have this kitchen available when the pandemic first hit. We could be feeding 20,000 people a meal. But this kitchen could then be turned over to just volume. We can create 50,000 meals in a day. We've got an Event Center where we can put out cots for people to sleep. We have got a parking lot where a helicopter could land. We can be a home-base station for just city resiliency. We are all on gas-fed generators so that we would have power. We have restroom facilities so I think that's another role. Heaven forbid, we ideally will never have to do that. We are at a centrally located space where people can get to us and we can serve them a meal and provide a warm place for them to stay.

Randy Wilburn [42:24] One of the cool things that David made us aware of was the significance of the McElroy entrance, named after the people that owned McElroy bank. They have been the individuals that donated the land to the University of Arkansas to establish the university. The McElroy family has been around Fayetteville for years in Northwest Arkansas. They have played a major philanthropic role with the library and David had some interesting stories to share about that and the significance of McElroy’s entrance off School Street. In addition, he also had a really cool story to share about the fact that he was so impressed by the bathrooms at a lot of airports where you don't have to touch anything and how that played into the design of bathrooms at the Fayetteville Public Library. Well, let's just say the women that come to the library will never ever have to wait in line for a stall. Just hear what David has to say about that.

David Johnson [43:35] What you're looking at is the McElroy entry to the library. The McElroy family dedicated the land that the University of Arkansas sits on. They had the popular bank in town that was sold to Arvest. Hayden McElroy is still a figure in town and so through a generous donation, this is the new Hayden or the McElroy family entry. And with that comes the very first bank safe in the history of Arkansas as a donation. He's donated his family safe, and we will have it in this vestibule here. He's donated the four patriarch portraits that had been painted; the great grand grandfather, the grandfather, Hayden's dad and Hayden. And then, all through this entry area, the adult services staff are going up and looking at the McElroy archive. We are going to build the history of Fayetteville through the McElroy family in this area. So, we're on School Street at the McElroy entry. When you come in, you come through, come up at that South parking area, and enter into this sort of gathering space before you go into the Event Center. We have got our public restrooms. We did not know how foresight that we had. I really like airport bathrooms because I don't have to touch anything. We don’t have a door handle and I can just wave at the sink, and I can get soap and water, so we have done that. In a pandemic world, a no-hands bathroom facility is ideal, and so, we have both the large public restroom spaces. One thing that always bothers me is to see a line of women waiting to go in because there aren't enough stalls for the females and the managers come in and go in and there's no line, so we have doubled down and quadrupled the number of stalls and spaces on the female side and given the men just enough.

Randy Wilburn [45:50] So, after we left the McElroy entrance and went back up to what is going to be the youth area of the Fayetteville Public Library where you will have the preschool area, the young people as well as the team rooms. We got a chance to check out the Story Time Room and Project Rooms. There’s something for all of the young folks that are going to come to the library. Some exciting things that they're going to be doing with the young people at the library, and some exhibits and things you're going to see there may not see any other place. And I will let David walk you through that and give you an idea. So just imagine being in this huge open area, as you look around and see all these different sites and these little rooms that you can go from one to the other. And it just makes it easy for parents that come with multiple children to be able to, from a simple glance, survey the whole area and keep your eye on your kids while letting them roam free to explore. Here's David.

David Johnson [46:59] So, you first walk in and you see these planes.

Randy Wilburn [47:04] They look different from here.

David Johnson [47:08] To Heather's point, we didn't want you to walk right in and see computers, and so all the computing pieces are going to be along the east side, so the first thing you will see is your books. And then we've got the parenting kits in the area back there. Beneath the stairwell is the read-aloud space, and then all of these little meeting rooms where kids can do homeschool, or you can check one out and meet with a tutor, a counselor or just have a quiet place to read. Elevator for ADA compliance and parents with strollers can get upstairs or take the stairways up. And like Heather had said, if you've got little ones down here, you can send them to grade school up there and still be connected. So, in our current world, you know, our Story Time Room, which we have outgrown, functions also as our Project Room and we decided we're going to break them apart. We have a project craft space for little kiddies with rubber floors and sinks and they can do glitter bombs and throw glue and do whatever they want to do all in this space here, and it's adjacent to the Story Time. The new Story Time-space is much bigger, more like the walker room, which we use today, it's got the Puppet Theater.

Randy Wilburn [48:56] Because a Story Time room wouldn't be complete without a Puppet Theater.

David Johnson [49:01] But when we move them to the Walker Room, we lose our Puppet Theater. Only when we have a smaller group can we do that, so this room fits that mold.

Heather Robideaux [49:16] It certainly allows us to either do things simultaneously or one after the other because you don't have to stop and flip a room to a different setup.

David Johnson [49:29] And then we solve the problem, or if you've got three or four little ones with you, and you're in here at Story Time, and then one of them gets the cranky pants and you got to take them out, you can at least have a glass wall and keep your eye on the other ones. In today's world, if I take one out of the Walker Room, I can't see into the Walker Room, so I'm going to grab them all. Outside the space, we're working with a beekeeper who has glass hives. So right outside the window, there will be some glass beehives, and so the kids can watch the bees coming and going and making their honey. And upon our rooftop garden that we just put in, we have got wildflowers growing. We are going to create little monarch butterflies.

Heather Robideaux [50:18] We will be teaching adult classes this spring in that regard.

Randy Wilburn [50:29] I've never seen a glass beehive.

Heather Robideaux [50:33] I haven’t either. I’m excited.

David Johnson [50:35] When I was growing up, I remember any time you drove, there was a restaurant. I think it was in Russellville that you could stop at, and they had a glass beehive, or as a glass wall with bees right behind it, and you could see them doing the thing. As a kid, I was fascinated. Now we get to do our own. I can appeal to my kid again.

Randy Wilburn [51:00] I don't know about you guys but I can't wait to see what a glass beehive looks like. It just sounds cool. In my mind, I can see it but I've never seen one in real life, so whenever I go to the Fayetteville Public Library, I will be sure to make a beeline, no pun intended, to the young people's area where I can take a look at that beehive. And I think you will be able even to see it from the outside as well, so that's cool. But it's just like the Fayetteville Public Library to have something like that to keep the kids engaged. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

David Johnson [51:33] When we went to the voters with a list of items for things that we wanted to do, one of the key components was double the size of these services. And so, we have accomplished that. And in doing so, we have decided to break it up into three areas. We have got this large preschool area, a grade school area, and then the team library, so we've been able to double the size and create an innovative, unique space.

Randy Wilburn [52:10] I like the number in 2020 FPL.

David Johnson [52:15] November 2020 FPL, that's when it came to this. And in that one, probably the pilot will change. So, it may be Santa Claus during Christmas time, and we will pull it out, and it may become the ’Cat in the Hat’ for a little while, or maybe it will become a Razorback or a bulldog. It will be the one where we can do some fun things and change the pilot out, depending on what's happening in the community or what season it is doing. And just right around the corner, if you recall, in our youth services area there, the brightly colored bathrooms and everything and so, we have kept that model. We have also got a stroller corral so that moms and dads can cart strollers, and then we have got the brightly colored bathrooms. Then, we have got the nursing rooms for mothers and those who are nursing at the far end down here. But inside those spaces, we've also got a monitor that we will be playing storytimes or other things so that if you've got two or three with you, they can be entertained while you do what you have to do.

Randy Wilburn [53:46] It's just so much. Every time we took a turn and went into another room, there was something new to see. But now, as we wind our way towards the end of this tour, we made it down to the Hunt Family Center for Innovation. This is the inspiration of the maker space where there will be a lot of innovation and creation that's going to take place within the four walls of these rooms here at the Fayetteville Public Library. Just hear what David has to say about these rooms and the impetus behind them. And certainly, there is going to be a lot of opportunity for innovation. There is going to be a lot of opportunities for workforce development. This area here, the Hunt Family Center for Innovation, will provide something for everyone, literally everyone. Don't take my word for it. Let’s hear what David has to say about that.

David Johnson [54:46] FPL was one of the first libraries to have a 3d printer. We were one of the first libraries around to do robotics and training classes. We knew maker spaces, fab labs are areas we were already in. We really didn't have a dedicated space for it and working with nerdies and others. So, we know we wanted a maker space, but the more we thought about it, and then we went and toured the Melrose Center at the Orlando Public Library, and we had a whole mind shift around what a maker space could be. And we found ourselves in the place where it's just about an area of innovation, creation, and imagination. And so, let's take a look at our Family Center for Innovation. Out here, you may see one of our simulators. We might put the flight simulator out there, so we'll do flight training and different things like that. This is our traditional maker space, where we'll be doing all of the robotics, Arduino coding, anything you can think of. It’s a place where you come and make things at the library and not just take things, all digitally wired with monitors. Then in our Simulation Lab, next door is where we will have mentioned the flight simulator. We will be purchasing a backhoe simulator, a forklift simulator, a driving simulator, and a commercial truck driving simulator. All with a curriculum of which you will be certified in those things when you pass those classes. Hopefully, if you apply for a job or whatever and put that certification on your resume or application, your resume will go to the top. It's about workforce development. We've got kitchen workforce development, and then we've got these other trades. So, when Ivan Crossman, who owns Crossland Construction, who's our lead contractor here, when he came down and saw it, we asked him, if somebody came to you with a backhoe simulator certification, would you hire him, and he said, absolutely.

Randy Wilburn [57:18] You should have seen the glint in David's eye when he told me that story about Ivan Crossland. I thought that was cool. One of the biggest things in this country that we need is more workforce development, even at a young age. I’m always telling my son, you need to learn a trade as well as everything else that you learn. People aren't learning carpentry anymore, people aren't learning to be an electrician, people aren't learning a lot of the trades, and you're going to be able to do some of this right at the Fayetteville Public Library. And so, I think that will be a game-changer for our community as a whole. And I think what David and his team at the Fayetteville Public Library are doing is nothing short of extraordinary. And they are taking it upon themselves to reinvent how education is done, how people learn, how people tinker and engage and try new things. And you're going to be able to do that within the four walls of the Fayetteville Public Library. Now, I'd be remiss if we didn't mention music, arts, and video. That was the last section of the tour We visited the Sound Studio, and I got to tell you, folks, it is beyond reproach. This Sound Studio is absolutely amazing, but I will let David tell you more about that. And again, when you get the chance, come down and check it out, and if you're musically inclined, you will be in heaven when you visit this space.

David Johnson [58:59] Fayetteville is a music town. We love live music. One of the things I always felt would be unique and neat for us was a free place where people could come and do professional recordings. And so, we built a professional recording studio. Immediately, you notice the geometry of the walls. We are finishing up the acoustic paneling. We will get the ceiling in, and then we will put our hardwood floor down. We have a choice to make. Do we want to have true fidelity, or do we just want to have a neat place where people can record? We decided to go all-in and build a real professional high fidelity recording studio, to the extent that there's a triple layer ceiling above us. Above the drop ceiling is another layer of ceiling tiles with two layers of acoustic tiling on top of it. The floor is floating so that no subsonic sound waves can penetrate this floor because it's literally not connected. This rubber seal and this layer of concrete are not connected other than that rubber layer around there. We will have all the backline instruments, drums, guitars, and Steinway in here. The Hall family has donated a Steinway. If you've ever seen the Steinway up at the Pryor Center in their lobby, that's ours. It’s temporarily there. So that one is going to come down. We will have all of the instruments and things here, so anyone in the community can come down and record music. We have the engineering studio, and we will be running Pro Tools as a recording software. If you go to Nashville, Vegas, to any recording studio, they are using Pro Tools. And we're going to be offering a series of classes and certifications, so before we let you just walk in here and start doing something, you're going to have to show us a level of competency. And after you have taken all of the four levels of classes, then you can walk in, we will throw you the keys and you can do whatever you want, but it will all be in the Pro Tools suite. We have an isolation booth on the far side to do your solo, do your instrumentals, and different things in that area. We couldn't do just audio without doing the video, so we have a video studio that's just getting finished out, and that’s the green wall and everything. This one will have a cyclorama, so it will all be rounded off, green wall, acoustic tiles, lighting, and three cameras. You can come in here and do a video. You could interview a client, cut a commercial for yourself if you wanted to. The beauty is it's all free. And we will have all of the editing software in the bays outside in this area as well.

Randy Wilburn [1:02:17] I will be using this spot for sure and definitely for the podcasting studio. In fact, I will be using both.

David Johnson [1:02:25] The beauty of everything that we have shown you today is that it's all free? We would like to think about the Center for Innovation as the launching pad. If you don't have any money and just have a curiosity or an imagination, come down here and get started. It’s a place where you can find all of the tools. It doesn't cost you to experiment and play and it may be that you come up with the idea that is the next great, innovative piece. You can then go to Startup Junkie, and they can help take you to that next level. So, we're just a starting place for that.

Heather Robideaux [1:03:06] And then the courses to get certified on all of the equipment, you can take that and build a career off of that with all of the different technology in here. So, many aspects of the expansion are dual purpose for the community, but you can utilize it to build a career.

Randy Wilburn [1:03:28] I don't know about you, folks, but I’m just getting excited listening to all these different things available to everyone with a library card. And I got to tell you when I heard this, and just as Heather and David had described all these things that are available, it reminds me of the gift that just keeps on giving. Imagine being able to get certified on a lot of the different available pro tools. Certified on some of the software to utilize some of this equipment that they have to the point where you can run a full-fledged sound studio, I think that's pretty amazing, and you could do that all for free. The possibilities are endless. I know a lot of you are listening to this, and your mind is racing about all the things you want to do. As soon as the library opens up and if you're listening to this, and it's already open, I think that's exciting. As we wind this up, start thinking about how you want to take advantage of the Fayetteville Public Library. If you're new to the area, you just have to visit it and get a library card. If you have been here for a long time, but you have just never taken the time to set foot in the library, you need to do that now that needs to change. In a minute, you're going to hear why because David and his team are making accessibility to the library a 24/7 experience. I think you should check this out and understand what that's all about because they're going to make it much easier and lower the bar to entry for people who need to utilize the library for various reasons. Whether they need it at six o'clock in the morning, at midnight, at 3 am, the library will be available to you, and I think that's cool. That is something that you don't find in even major cities that have multiple library branches, so check this out.

David Johnson [1:05:28] There's the Photography Studio, we will have cameras, lights, and lightboxes. So, you might be making jewelry, pottery and you need some high professional quality photographs. We will have the lightbox where you can come down, take those, put them up on the web, sell your wares and then do whatever. We have got dressing rooms for costume changes for both the Video Studio and Photography Studio. We will have 12 different workstations and spaces here, and in the back over there will be the two Podcasting Suites. Part of it is we want to build a culture of creativity where those innovative ideas just smash up against one another. People work together and collaborate who might not have ever thought about, oh, I'm building a robot with a virtual reality piece to it, and I'd like oh, I hear a person in the back making a country music song, maybe I want to put that in what I'm doing. So, we meet up just hanging out here and you collaborate as soon as ideas just collide. We want a culture where people just want to come and hang out and create and make stuff. The Hunt family saw the potential, and they saw that vision and understood what we're trying to do. So, they made a very generous donation to the Hunt Family Center for Innovation in the Hunt Family Gathering Glade. Their $5 million gift is going to help us narrow down the gap in our capital campaign.

Randy Wilburn [1:07:19] I just can't wait for this thing to be open.

Unknown Speaker [1:07:22] We think the first of the year, we had thought we would be able to get in by mid-December, but we ran into some supply chain issues with the ceiling tiles. Before I can get safety certification or pass these things, we have to have these things. And so, we're going as fast as we can and as safely as we can. And then we have met with the City Board of Health. We brought them down, they toured and have come back with a set of guidelines for how we can safely open the space to the community when it's the right time. We will not have that opening day, big festive gathering of 1000s and different party-type atmosphere; we will be doing that someday. How we introduce these elements to the community during this particular time will be critical for our safety, library staff safety, volunteer safety, and the community safety. How do we do it smartly so that we don't become a super spreader?

Randy Wilburn [1:08:57] Yes, that's the norm now. You just have to be careful, so many people are at risk.

David Johnson [1:09:04] They have given us the guidelines and so now we have to turn those guidelines into a plan. Thankfully, we have got time to do that and when it's the right time, we will begin communicating more with the community about how we're going to do it. We missed a great opportunity with TheatreSquared. We would be able to do a Christmas Carol on the mainstage and the Event Center but we just can't get the lights and the sound commissioned and other things. They wanted to start on December 2 and we just are not going to be ready yet.

Randy Wilburn [1:09:41] In addition to having to beg off some early opportunities to use the space at the library, they have figured out that there were going to be some changes that were going to take place because of the pandemic. There may be permanent changes at the library regarding how they do things, and David talks a little bit more about that.

David Johnson [1:10:03] I will be interested in seeing how a community responds to opportunities to meet in large groups? It's one thing for Pfizer and Faucci to say, okay, the vaccine is ready. And it's one thing for science to say, we can do it, it's another thing for us psychologically to say, I'm ready to do it. You may say, I can do it, but I'm not going to be ready.

Randy Wilburn [1:10:32] Our ability to adopt all of these new rules and restrictions, and just the way of life has been hard as it is.

David Johnson [1:10:37] In the pandemic of 1918, Matt Petty said in that book, it took four years for America to recover from that event, and even the library is not going to go back to normal. We have introduced some new things like curbside service and live streaming of our programming that we will keep doing forever because they have been received so well. And there's an audience and it is a way for us to connect people to the library in what we do so that it will be a new normal for us. Whenever we get back to being able to smile and open the door and say, come on in, we will have one big shindig here to celebrate and be thankful to the community for what they have done, allowing us to build this. This is the people's house. This is their library. Fortunately for us, it has allowed us to dream big and give them everything we can.

Heather Robideaux [1:12:07] I don't think we miss much.

Randy Wilburn [1:12:15] This is great. I do appreciate this. I've been jonesing to get in here. I have to get in and see this place.

Heather Robodo[1:12:31] I'm doing tours tomorrow and Friday.

Randy Wilburn [1:12:33] That's great. I appreciate that, and I’m excited to be able to tell the stories.

David Johnson [1:12:38] And now you're in the 88,000 square feet. This used to be our shop and this was our facility’s main point. He pointed this out the other day. This was his office right here and his tools and everything over there, our friend’s storage. One of the advantages is that we look for the silver lining, so Heather and I talked about this earlier. We talked about how we don't have to be perfect right on day one, all polished and shiny. We will have an opportunity to open them slowly, manage our processes and learn how to work in the building. I think that's an advantage to us, instead of the pressure of being on the money day one and the expectations way up here.

Randy Wilburn [1:13:45] It's almost like a dry run start. You want to take your time and get acclimated to things and not under as much pressure.

David Johnson [1:13:55] We know human behavior enough to say, Heather, and I plan this so that when people walk in, they all should go left. Well, funny, everybody is going to go right. If you're not flexible and let the community tell us how they want to use the building, then we can respond.

Randy Wilburn [1:14:22] That makes perfect sense. Last but not least. How high tech the library is about to go when it opens again, you will not believe this if I told you myself, so I will let David tell you all about the new technology that will be taking place in the library. It’s exciting, though. I must say Redbox at the library, but nothing like it.

David Johnson [1:14:48] It's going to be interesting to see how the technology around this open-plus system will allow us to be open 24/7. One of the significant advantages to it is that we will be limited occupancy due to the pandemic. It will tell us how many people are in the building at any one time and where they are congregated. So that if we see clusters of people who are not following social distancing, we can recommend that they need to be apart. Then we will be putting in all of the red boxes where people can come in and get books, DVDs, and all those things. It will be like a red box that you see at Walmart. It will have a laptop vending machine to swipe your card and check out a Mac or a Chromebook. We will have a holding locker, so if you can't come to the library during our regular operating hours, but you put an item on hold, you can have it put in the holding locker, swipe your card and pull your item out.

Randy Wilburn [1:16:08] I like that because that's almost like literally 24/7 service.

David Johnson [1:16:11] One of the things that bother us is when Heather's team is closing down at night. They have just watched a group of nurses getting ready to study for an exam in the morning, and there is only 30 minutes left in the evening, and you have to tell them they have to go. Now we can say that you are free to come down to the 24/7 space and complete your studying. Anytime we survey the community, and anytime we talk to people in groups, the first or second thing they talk about is, can you increase the hours? That’s expensive. And so, what we can do, though, is we can open this part of the library 24/7 unstaffed, and if you respect it, and you don't do a bunch of stupid stuff, maybe we open up more. About 450 installations of the software in Europe have become self-policing and people with the privilege don't want to give it up, so they don't let people take advantage of things and do silly stuff. The software will also monitor if someone comes in and doesn't move for 30 minutes. It will send a security alert so a welfare check can be done to ensure that someone's not sleeping, or heaven forbid, have a health problem. Once you get your special card, if you swipe in and you've got a friend with you, who doesn't, it will say, hey, welcome to the library, Randy. I see you have somebody with you who doesn't have a card. And then you have to tell them, they have got to go until they pass; it's all about going through the orientation and learning.

Randy Wilburn [1:18:02] Is anybody eligible to get a card as long as they get passed? Do you only allow a certain number of people in at a time?

David Johnson [1:18:10] It’s only during the pandemic. After that, there is no occupancy limit on how many can be in 24/7 space. I don't think it is going to be too crazy. The worst time would be the finals. We doubled the size of the place and there will be double the number of students here.

Randy Wilburn [1:18:42] Well, there you have it, folks. You've heard it right from the horse's mouth, David Johnson and Heather Robideaux gave us the 35 plus million-dollar tour. The exact figure of what it costs to build this space pales compared to the ROI of the expansion for the Fayetteville Public Library. I cannot wait for you guys to see it. Some of you that are listening to this podcast has already been inside. Some of you will come inside; some of you can't wait to check it out for yourselves. And even some of you still have not been to the Fayetteville Public Library. What are you waiting for? You do not want to miss this space. There's a little bit of something for everyone there, and I encourage you to check it out for yourself. And if you don't have kids, and haven't spent time at the library, just make time for yourself because I can't think of a better way to get one percent better every day by going to the library. So, take that for what it's worth. I hope you have enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. We will be back next week with another episode. We appreciate you guys listening to the podcast on a regular basis wherever you listen to us. And remember to rate and review the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or SoundCloud and let us know what you think about it. We would love to hear from you because we are continuing to create new episodes on a regular basis that people want to hear like this one. That's all we have for this week. We will see you soon.

TZL [1:20:22] We hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Check us out each and every week, available anywhere that great podcasts can be found. For Show Notes or more information on becoming a guest, visit We will see you next week on I am Northwest Arkansas.

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