Some 287 years after Benjamin Franklin established the first one, Arlington has just introduced the nation’s newest library, and its debut has ushered in a whole new experience for patrons.
“The doors of wisdom are never shut,” Franklin declared with the establishment of The Library Company in Philadelphia.
The town has come a long way since 1923 when its first librarian, Pearl Wade, managed a collection of 500 books stashed in wooden crates in a corner of a downtown bank.
On a salary of $12 per month, she welcomed visitors looking for something to read on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
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There’s a lot more you will find today among its collections of more than 600,000 items, inside the $30 million, three-story George W. Hawkes Downtown Library. And the public has access to all of it every day of the week.
Upon your arrival, you first discover the Ruthie Brock Lobby — named for the 43-year veteran librarian at UT Arlington who also served as chair of the Arlington Library Board and its Foundation.
Ruthie and her husband, Dr. Allan Saxe, are major contributors to the public fundraising campaign that has further enhanced the experience of a library visit.
Also on the first floor are customized collections, play areas, interactive activities, and technology dedicated to children from birth to 12 years old.
A digital creativity lab with science, technology, engineering, arts, and math are on the second floor along with small group study rooms aimed at teen patrons. And there's a large classroom and tutoring space to support adult literacy programs and workforce development.
Genealogy and history enthusiasts will enjoy the section of the third-floor housing material, displays, and computers for research.
Current Director of Libraries Yoko Matsumoto summed up the building design as a way to “transition library users through the whole spectrum of their lives.”
Then there's the library’s namesake.
George Hawkes and his brother Charles came to Arlington in the mid 1940s. They acquired and later merged two struggling weekly newspapers that became the Arlington Citizen-Journal. It was with his hands on a typewriter that Hawkes inspired the development of the city that would become the third largest in North Texas.
Former Mayor Tom Vandergriff said Hawkes was “as near all things to all people as anyone I have ever known,” and,“Arlington marks its modern-day time from the point that George Hawkes came to our community.”
Such accolades were especially appropriate as it was through his reporting that Arlington residents were told of the young mayor’s ideas of pursuing General Motors; developing a lake to support the city’s expansion; and bringing major league baseball to Arlington.
Some would conclude that it was Hawkes’ reporting and commentary that made Vandergriff a legend, for without Hawkes literally spreading the news, there would not have been the manifest public support that led to the city’s remarkable success.
Vandergriff would later say, “Perhaps we have just set the table for what was to come.” How true that statement would be as the foundation of all that has followed in the last 60 years.
Hawkes was certainly a critical member of that assembly of “we” and it is entirely appropriate that his name becomes synonymous with the place where knowledge is stored for all to discover.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor who served as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. He lectures at UT Arlington.