“Dreams do come true,” said Libby Lee, widow of architect Mike Lee, who played an integral part in the creation of two new facilities in the Dothan-Houston County Library System. “This is part of a dream that really did come true for everybody – not just for those involved but for everybody. It’s wonderful for my family to be a part of it.”
Mr. Lee was recognized for his role in bringing a new main library building and a branch at Westgate Park into existence during Monday morning’s grand-opening celebration at the main facility.
“As long as you remember someone, they live on,” Mrs. Lee continued. “You live on through things. It’s a good feeling to walk around and see this, to see the closeness of the people.
“We’ve loved knowing Mike has been involved with this. And, as a grandmother, I know my grandbabies, my great-great grandbabies and my great-great-great grandbabies will be a part of what Mike did.”
To bring the $7½ million project to fruition took the contributions of hundreds of people. The fund-raising effort to get the project off the ground was a partnership between the Dothan-Houston County Library System board of directors, the city of Dothan, the Houston County Commission and the Wiregrass Foundation.
“This journey began many years ago,” said Steve Roy, library board chairman. “People realized we needed new facilities. This journey began with a challenge grant from the Wiregrass Foundation. The city and county also challenged the library board. Four major entities contributed to this project. We had an original goal of $1million to be raised (by the board). We have raised $1.7 million. This has come from large donations, from people buying bricks and putting change in bottles on restaurant counters. Mary Alice Veale pulled all of that together.
“Even though the buildings are built, if we want to continue the project, the private sector has to continue to step up.”
The day’s celebration was highlighted by a challenge from Raymond Santiago, director of the Miami-Dade (Fla.) Library System.
“What a wonderful day for Dothan and Houston County,” Santiago said as he began his remarks. “You are celebrating the opening of the new library. You are also celebrating an engaged community. You’ve come to an engagement party.
“You are living in an engaged community. I congratulate you all. This is the true meaning of community engagement (bringing several entities together to make the construction a reality). What you’ve accomplished in three short years is being admired all around the country and the world.
“The important thing is the journey, not the destination. It wasn’t an easy feat, but you’ve accomplished it. Community engagement is an enduring cornerstone. Public libraries provide leadership, tools, civic engagement. Libraries are leading in the discussion. This will be, is and should continue to be the role of your library.”
As he wrapped up his comments, Santiago listed a number of challenges that lie ahead for the library system.
“What’s next?” Santiago asked. “To maintain and maximize the potential of your library you have to sustain community attachment. There are three places. The first is your home. The second place is your workplace. Where is the third place? Where can people come together to learn? You’re here today raising your public library’s profile. It is the education source of your community.
“Public libraries are not going to go away. But, we must change how we look at libraries – not solely as warehouses for books. Libraries have to serve everybody. Libraries are not for librarians. They need to reflect the community. We are a people business. Libraries are about people, about connecting with people. It must be customer-centric. We have to be flexible. We need to be prepared for the challenge as being a leader in the community. Your library should remain the center of this community.
“You have created the future for your children and your grandbabies.”
Bettye Forbus, director of the Dothan-Houston County Library System, has watched the local library evolve over the course of her 36-year career. She, better than anyone, understands the significance of the opening of the two new facilities. She knows what it took to get to Monday’s grand opening.
“It’s been a long pregnancy,” Forbus said with a smile. “We’ve birthed twins.”
As she studied the crowd mingling through the new facility, Forbus observed, “It’s a wonderful day. We have had a great turnout. That shows how much the community wanted this. People’s ideas about the library are different today. I hope this building reflects that.”
She also noted a change most people didn’t notice Monday.
“You see, with all of the people here, that I’m not walking around asking them to be quiet,” Forbus said. “Libraries are busy places. People are connecting with people here. An engaged community connects the different people together.
“These buildings would not happen without the community. It took every person who made a donation. You can’t do this with just a few people writing large checks.”
The future the library, she notes, rests with the community.
“This is their first look at a beautiful new facility,” Forbus said. “Tomorrow, the library will be nourished and fed by what it reflects of the community. Today, when people leave, I want them to leave knowing this is their library. There are things in a modern library that will appeal to people from the cradle to the grave.”