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best overall
Story By Mike Overall, Photo By Shaila Creekmore

Your public library in Jonesboro and its seven branches scattered throughout Craighead and Poinsett counties, as well as thousands of libraries across the nation, were “green” long before the color became the de rigueur symbol of environmental conscientiousness and activism. And now that the word green connotes so many efforts and causes on behalf of mankind’s efforts to save Planet Earth from its human-induced ravages, it is worth noting that the public library, by its very design and operation, is one of our major recycling centers.

Right here in Jonesboro, the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library, year in and year out, literally recycles thousands and thousands of its holdings, the majority of them books, for repeated checkouts by its patrons, the public. And that recycling, as any environmentally aware person will tell you, is an important, ongoing factor in the campaign to save our forests from being further denuded, for example. The recycling also promotes the reuse of products instead of consigning them to the trash heap, that pile of junk which may serve as a metaphor of sorts for a society that sometimes seems addicted to disposability, plasticity, and general wastefulness.

“Our library’s inventory is unique in that it’s designed to be used by patrons over and over again,” said Library Director Phyllis Burkett. “And when some of those materials are worn, tattered and even damaged by repeated usage, we have a mending department staffed with personnel who are trained to repair those books for additional usage, thereby prolonging the ‘shelf life’ of numerous holdings. We make every effort to keep our stock in circulation as long as we possibly can, for our patrons’ benefit as well as for our commitment to environmental quality and preservation.”

The Jonesboro library’s shelves are stocked with thousands of books, periodicals, and such increasingly popular audio-visual items as books on CDs and cassette tapes; documentaries and some movies on VHS tapes; and on DVDs, some of the newer Hollywood and foreign films, as well as popular current and past television shows; and the newer Play-Aways, a self-contained “book” package that includes a compact electronic playback device, a power battery and a small set of headphones.

“We’re now looking at the possibility of stocking, probably in the near future, electronic, or so-called ‘e-books’,” Burkett said. “Right now I’m particularly interested in those products whose design and configuration will enable the reader to hold the item and read what’s on the screen in a manner that’s comfortable, easy on the eye and practical in its design.”

The Friends of the Library is a major support organization that operates a used bookstore in the building at 315 West Oak. The store is stocked with hundreds of books, most but not all of them hardbacks, which are sold at extremely low prices. The store is staffed by FOL volunteers and is restocked on a regular basis, as hundreds of volumes are sold to the public in any given week.

“Selling used books makes a lot more sense than dumping them into the trash,” Burkett said. “The more we can recycle our volumes, including those that have been removed from the main collection to make way for newer substitutes, plus those new releases we purchase for our patrons’ benefit, the longer the books stay in circulation for use by people who love to read. As your probably know, your true book lover can hardly bear to see still readable books relegated to the trash bin, where they won’t end up as long as we continue to promote our recycling projects with every means at our disposal.”

Kay Bauer, member and chairman of the Friend of the Library Board, said the organization donates books to schools, youth organizations and other outreach programs sponsored by the library. Bauer is a tireless worker whose oversight of the FOL’s book circulation program brings the gift of reading to persons of all ages, in a variety of settings ranging from Headstart programs to public and other specialized housing complexes whose residents may enjoy selecting from a variety of volumes where they live and avail themselves of numerous recreational and educational opportunities, among them book discussion groups and exchange programs. The group also provides books as special incentives for the Children’s Summer Reading Club and hosts an annual open house during the Christmas season.

“The Friends,” as the organization is commonly known, also sponsors several major book sales each year in the library’s Round Room, where thousands of books and other items are sold to the public at bargain-basement prices. The sales never fail to attract large crowds; it is not uncommon to see a steady stream of customers leave the event with numerous bags loaded with books they have purchased for themselves, as well as for relatives and friends.
All proceeds from the Friends of the Library Book Shop and other projects benefit the public library, Bauer said, which further engenders the library’s efforts to serve its patrons by providing an inventory which runs the gamut from educational to entertaining.

Also integral to the library’s recycling program are the hundreds and hundreds, possibly even thousands of books and other items that are donated to the library and the FOL every year. Many individuals and families make the donations because they want to see the books put to good use. In some instances, an estate’s book collection is donated in its entirety, where some of them are shelved in the general collection, while others go to the book shop, to the library’s reference collection or to the very popular and frequently used genealogy department.

Kay Taylor, who holds administrative and operational sway over the library’s popular and award-winning children’s department, said recycling projects in her domain reflect those that are business-as-usual for the library as a whole. “On any given day we recycle our computer and plain paper, as well as cardboard boxes and aluminum cans. We also recycle envelopes that are not used in our billing process to hand out our craft projects for the department’s Storytime projects,” she said. “Afterwards, we refill the envelopes and use them for the next craft project. Furthermore, we also use things like toilet tissue and paper towel rolls, greeting cards and other sources of paper for future projects whose goal is to entertain and educate our children at the same time.”

As is the case among adults throughout the main library in Jonesboro, state-of-the-art electronic equipment, including several computers, are in constant use by youngsters in the Children’s Department. “Our young people are growing up in a digital world that is becoming increasingly sophisticated and more conducive to the educational process,” Taylor said. Today as never before, she indicated, the department is a multiuse, multipurpose facility, onethat affords children the opportunity to learn and be entertained by the miracle of the written word as well as by visual images that have become invaluable teaching and learning tools.

In the children’s department, Taylor said, so-called environmentally friendly book series are popular with children and parents. Among them are the Earth Friends Series, the Recycle, Reduce, Reuse, Rethink series, and other titles that encourage, as well as instruct, young people how to live in harmony with their world.

While Burkett and others who oversee the library’s day-to-day operations are cognizant of the technological changes that the facility must incorporate to stay abreast of a digitized world that is changing at a dizzying rate, they are now more than ever aware of the library’s traditional role as that of a place to serve as a repository of knowledge and intellectual enlightenment. And currently on the shelves at the Jonesboro library and its branches are dozens, perhaps hundreds of books and audio-visual selections that cover such subjects as sources of alternative energy, in a world where supplies of fossil fuels are dwindling at an alarming rate, as well as becoming flashpoints for political and human conflict; the environmental perils that have arisen in the wake of mankind’s “carbon footprint” upon this ecologically fragile planet; and the very real threat of global warming, a crisis of such magnitude that it poses a clear and present danger to the future of humanity as well as to virtually every other living organism on the planet.

The eminent American historian David McCullough, whose biography of Founding Father John Adams was made into a movie that is currently garnering rave critical revues during its run on HBO, once called the free lending library “the greatest institution in American history.” From its inception, McCullough said, the American library system has served the country and its citizens “as a uniquely American institution,” one that democratized the dispensation of knowledge and intellectual enlightenment in a nation whose very founders were products of the Age of Enlightenment.

Were they around to witness it today, those prescient founders no doubt would champion the “greening” of the institution that has become one of their more precious legacies.

Local Music
The Edge Coffee House, 1900 Aggie Road, adjacent to ASU campus: every Tuesday, 7-9 (or slightly later), Rob Alley Trio, jazz/contemporary; every Saturday, 11-2, Rachel Arnett; Thursday the 3rd, Matt Vardell; 10th, 17th, 21st (Thursdays), Alta Street Band. Call 932-3114 for more information.

Bluegrass Monday, free concert series sponsored by KASU-FM, the broadcasting service of Arkansas State University; April 28, Cody Shuler and Pine Mountain Railroad, 7 p.m., Atkins Celebration Hall, 101 South Pruett Street, downtown Paragould.

Jonesboro’s Plain Meanness, which has a new album on the market, is on the road this month. Catch them at Midtown Billiards in Little Rock on April 25.

501 Club & Restaurant, 2628 Phillips Drive, Wednesday through Saturday nights, vocalist/instrumentalist Grant Garland and talented friends.

All other venues are TBA: Caffe Buono on Highland Drive, just east of South Main; Electric Cowboy, just north of 501; Back Beat Music on Southwest Drive; Guit-Down and Brickhouse Bar & Grille, downtown; Mallard Club in Holiday Inn on South Caraway; Piero’s, restaurant with loft downtown; Sheffield’s restaurant at 305 South Main; call 931-9775 for April dates.