Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Renovated Cossitt Library Could Open By February

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 1:21 PM

click to enlarge The current library sign and courtyard - MAYA SMITH
  • Maya Smith
  • The current library sign and courtyard

Cossitt Library, the oldest public library in Memphis closed its doors in January 2018 in preparation for a renovation and in a little less than two months, that work will finally begin.

In the now emptied foyer of the library, Shamichael Hallman, director of Cossitt talked to a group of Memphians Tuesday, detailing the plans for the space.

“Over the last several years, there’s been a lot of discussion about the library,” Hallman said. “It’s been on the chopping block a couple of times. People have really questioned if this library can continue to live and be relevant in a changing society, which is a question I think a lot of libraries are asking.”

The project will be completed in three phases, Hallman said. The first part of the library transformation will be the exterior courtyard on the corner of Front and Monroe.

click to enlarge The new courtyard will house seating, green space, and public art. - MAYA SMITH
  • Maya Smith
  • The new courtyard will house seating, green space, and public art.

Hallman said the revamped courtyard will feature seating, landscaping, a large, “eye-catching” piece of artwork, and green space for yoga and other fitness classes.

The fence currently separating the courtyard from Front Street will be torn down, as Hallman said it’s a “literal barrier” that hinders people’s access to the space.

“The hope is that for the people who are walking or driving by the message is clearly ‘You’re welcome in this space,’” Hallman said. “We want people to come, sit, and hang out.”

The second phase will target the interior of the library, beginning with the first floor and moving to the second level.

Hallman said the goal of the first floor is to create a gathering space: “From wall to wall, we’ll have tons of social seating.”

“We want people to be able to come in and meet a neighbor or a friend and have a conversation. We really want to go against the ‘Shh, we’re in the library’ mentality.”

To create that kind of environment, there will be a cafe on one end of the first floor, serving coffee, juice, salads, sandwiches, and other refreshments.

For those who want to work in quiet, there will also be meeting rooms with river views on the first floor.

Along the back wall of the library’s first floor, Hallman said there will be a mural paying tribute to the African American students who participated in a series of sit-ins and read-ins at Cossitt and other segregated public libraries in the city during the 1960s.

“There’s a lot of history here,” Hallman said.

click to enlarge Renderings of the new library displayed on the library's second floor - MAYA SMITH
  • Maya Smith
  • Renderings of the new library displayed on the library's second floor

On one end of the second floor, there will be a performance area for dance, theater, music, and fitness classes, as well as a technology workshop where local professionals can give classes on various topics such as programming, photo and video editing, and robotics.

The opposite end is slated to house music stations where visitors can listen to a collection of vinyl records. There will also be a studio for producing graphic design, music, and video projects, which Hallman said will be “digital playground for adults.”

Finally, the second floor will also be home to the Memphis Jookin Academy, where Memphis youth can come learn to jook from Memphis actor and dancer, Charles ‘Lil Buck’ Riley.

Every program, class, and space will be available to anyone with a library card with no charge, Hallman said.

Another change the library might see is extended hours. Before the library closed in 2018, its hours were 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but Hallman said those hours didn’t allow the library to serve as many people as it could.

To extend hours, Hallman said additional funding is needed.

In addition to the new programming, Hallman assured that the library will still have “quite a few” books.

“Libraries have always been a place to openly access information and knowledge,” Hallman said. “Those things will be very much still in tact. We just want to build on that and meet some of the needs of the changing community.”

The renovation of the library is a piece of the larger national Reimagining Civic Commons initiative meant to improve civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, environmental sustainability, and value creation in five cities. Memphis, along with Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Akron, were chosen to be demonstration cities for the three-year project.

Here the initiative focuses on re-imagining the riverfront, including the Cossitt Library, the River Line Trail, Memphis Park, and the Mississippi River Park.

click to enlarge A postcard featuring the Cossitt Library in 1906 - MEMPHIS PUBLIC LIBRARIES
  • Memphis Public Libraries
  • A postcard featuring the Cossitt Library in 1906

Cossitt first opened its doors in 1893 as the Cossitt-Goodwyn Institute. It was a library and a museum.

The building serving as the library today, was added in 1958, when a part of the original structure was torn down.

Now, the only remnant of the original library is the red sandstone building sitting west of the current library.

Hallman said the library is in talks with officials from the Brooks Museum of Art, which might have a use for the historic building, but “it’s pretty wide open now.”

Hallman said contractors should begin work by mid-summer and “if there are no mishaps,” anticipates the library re-opening in February 2020.

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