Exciting changes are on the horizon for one of Knox County’s most popular establishments.
The Knox County Public Library Board of Directors voted to approve purchasing property to build a new state-of-the-art facility. While the purchase hasn’t been finalized yet, the vote to pursue the project was a major first step. Once the land purchase is complete, architects will be brought in to design the new facility. The project will be funded with grants as well as the library’s finances. The library has been saving money for years in anticipation of this project.
The future home of the library will be the property at the corner of College Street and Daniel Boone Drive, currently occupied by El Mariachi Mexican Restaurant and Knox Fitness. The future of these establishments is uncertain at this time.
“We feel like the area is prime,” said Library Director Lana Messer Hale. “It’s still close to downtown, but also close to U.S. 25E.”
The library has called 206 Knox Street home since 1996, when it moved from what is now City Hall. The current facility moved what was two retail spaces that held stores such as Dollar General, The Jeans Depot, Kroger and Tye’s Ready to Wear. Once a new facility is constructed and the move has been made, the library’s board of directors will then decide what to do with the current facility.
The Knox County Public Library began during the Depression Era with librarians carrying bags of books and magazines, often walking or riding horses to reach some rural areas In the county. According to research in the book, History and Families Knox County, published in 1994, the library program ended just before World War II. According to the book, the first library was opened to the public in Barbourville after World War II in a quonset Hut behind the municipal building. The library moved locations after the floodwall construction, and eventually landed in the city’s Municipal Building in 1964, where it stayed until 1996. In 1967, the Kiwanis Club formed a taxing district for the library, which still exists today and is a major source of the library’s funding.
Hale said that while plans for everything the new facility will offer are fluid, their wish list includes space for additional programs, senior citizen programming, more community rooms, a larger, dedicated children’s area, a teen area, stage, and a loading/storage dock for the bookmobile.
Hale has been the library’s Director since March 1982, and is assisted by George West, who came to work for the library in November 2002. The library currently employs six people in roles such as director, assistant director, bookmobile clerk, circulation clerk, children’s services/circulation clerk.