Design plans and the vision for the new Pine Bluff/Jefferson County main library, to be located at Sixth Avenue and Main Street, were unveiled Tuesday at an event held in the current library’s auditorium.

Voters approved a 3.0-mill tax increase to raise $14 million in November 2016 to construct a new library building in Pine Bluff and to renovate the Watson Chapel library. Similarly, county voters approved a 0.25 mill increase to fund renovations at the White Hall, Altheimer and Redfield branches.

Construction of the new library is expected to begin in the fall of 2018.

Library Director Bobbie Morgan said that she intends to cut the ribbon to open the new facility on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.

“This is an exciting time in Pine Bluff,” said Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington. “Libraries remain very vital to our communities because they are free to everyone, they offer more than books with technology being available, and libraries provide guidance and reliable information.”

Washington mentioned that the new library will be the forefront of the Pine Bluff Reads Initiative, which is designed to help children read at their grade level by the time they are in the first grade.

Following Washington’s opening remarks, Little Rock architect Reese Rowland, of Polk, Stanley and Wilcox, presented the vision of what will become the new 32,000-square-foot downtown library. Pine Bluff architect Fred Reed is also assisting in the design work.

In an effort to cater to the community, Rowland said that the library’s mantra is “we are more than books” as he shared the plans for the activities and learning centers that will be implemented within the new library.

Information provided by the library indicates the learning centers may include a dedicated area for computer training covering a variety of skills: programming, how to access the Internet, or genealogy (ancestor) research.

A computer lab will be included, featuring the latest technology to search and apply for employment opportunities.

A glass enclosed Teen Loft, a Youth Learning Layer for kid-friendly events, two recording studios and public meeting rooms will be included. There will be a teaching kitchen for practical preparations to teach children how to prepare meals and snacks for themselves, mom and dad. A coffee shop is also included in the plans for the new library.

Rowland has envisioned an open-air, terraced, public space suitable for lawn chair or blanket lounging outdoors on the building’s west side.

“With our contractor on board, we are starting to look at the numbers,” Rowland said. “This is a vision, and a vision is different than the final product. We will build what we can afford, which should be a modern, transparent building that will display what the future of Pine Bluff can be.”

Fred Reed and Polk, Stanley and Wilcox representatives attended more than 10 listening sessions throughout Jefferson County in late summer 2017 to solicit the public’s visions of a library. Rowland noted the ideas and suggestions put forward at the sessions were considered and many have been incorporated.

The Pine Bluff Library was established in 1913 as a Public Library Association with the assistance of the local Pine Bluff chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

An article in the Jefferson County Historical Quarterly spring 2018 issue states, “Mrs. Marion Dewoody Pettigrew, beginning in 1913, was deeply involved in the beginning of the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library. In 1930, voters approved a $65,000 bond issue to build a library on West Fifth Avenue. The library opened in 1931 with Pettigrew as president. She later became the librarian.”

The library was located at Fifth Avenue and Chestnut Street, and the building is still standing today.

In 1979, an Interlocal Agreement was established between the City of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County creating the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System. The library continues to operate under the terms of this agreement which, among other matters, established the funding for the library to be provided by an ad valorem property tax, a tax whose amount is based on the value of a transaction or of a property.

The tax rate which funds the library’s operations only (not the new construction) has not increased for approximately 30 years.

The library is currently located in the east portion of the Pine Bluff Civic Center built in 1963-68.