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Today marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library at its current location on 8th Street.
Before the opening of the library on Feb. 6, 1989, at its current location, the community library was housed in a 978 square-foot room in Town Hall. At the time, Town Hall also housed a number of other public service entities including the fire department.
The previous library site in Town Hall held over 12,500 books, had limited handicap access, limited parking, no room for expansion and could provide limited community services due to its small size. At the same time, the number of books in the library and the number of library card holders in Archuleta County was increasing. These changes prompted the library board to pursue the building of a new library facility that would allow for better community access and expansion.
Before the county began to support the library with funds in the 1960s, Civic Club volunteers ran the library. With county support, the library was finally able to hire a librarian.
Former librarian and library director Lenore Bright was instrumental in the process of planning for and building a new library.
In an interview with The SUN, Bright explained that she moved to Pagosa in 1980 after having served on a number of state and national library committees and lobbying for libraries because of their importance to communities.
After moving to Pagosa, Bright began volunteering at the library in Town Hall and explained that, upon departure of the previous librarian, she became the new librarian — a position she held until 2005.
As a result of her lobbying and committee experience, Bright knew a great deal about library funding including how to pursue grant monies to support community libraries. Additionally, Bright had been an elementary school teacher and was concerned about the accessibility of the local library to children. Her experience, expertise and passion helped the library board begin to plan for the construction a larger, more accessible library backed by a great deal of community support. Planning work towards building a bigger library facility began in 1983.
During the following years, Bright and the library board worked hard to gain community support to build a new library and to fund raise to make the plan a reality.
Fundraising really took off in March of 1987, when Jake and Terry Hershey, long-time supporters of the library, made a “challenge donation” of $10,000 to the library. The Hersheys were inspired to donate money after hearing of the library board’s need to raise matching funds in order to receive a Federal Library Services Construction Act Grant totaling $75,000.
Inspired by the Hershey’s challenge donation and impressed with the concerns of the library board surrounding accessibility and restricted services at the Town Hall library site, Bob and Betty Lindner expressed their interest in making a $240,000 contribution to the library expansion and relocation project.
The Lindner donation came with three stipulations: that the money be used to purchase land on the southwest corner of the intersection of Trujillo Road (now 8th Street) and San Juan Street to be the site of the new library, that $10,000 of the donation be used to compile a book collection in the library in memory of V.A. Poma, and that the library be named the Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library in recognition of Ms. Sisson’s contribution to Archuleta County during her 48 years as a teacher and rancher.
Provided these stipulations, the library board accepted the Lindner’s $240,000 donation on Thursday, April 2, 1987, and began a county-wide fundraising campaign weeks later.
According to Bright, the new library site was ideal and would provide maximum accessibility and room for expansion. Using raised monies, the board commissioned Durango architect George King to design the new library facility in 1987 and groundbreaking at the new library location began Dec. 1, 1987.
Bright explained that the community involvement that followed the beginning of the fundraising campaign was, “a wonderful experience,” and that, “there wasn’t a club or organization in town not involved in fundraising for the library.”
During her interview, Bright explained that the fundraising was fun and that every organization and club thought of unique ways to raise money.
“We were in the parade, had a big auction, put on dances and a mystery theater, oh boy there were so many things.”
Overall, the library board was able to raise over $700,000 in the Pagosa community with some assistance from foundations. In December of 1988, proceeds from a Dan Fogelberg concert, in addition to a number of last-minute private donations fulfilled the library board’s fundraising goals, making the board eligible to receive a $15,000 grant from the Coors Foundation that would further supplement funds for building and opening the new library.
Bright explained that she was thrilled with the collaboration and community involvement she observed during this time.
“It was a phenomenal experience, it really was. A once in a lifetime for me and for the community, all the support and effort really showed it (a new library) was something everybody wanted.”
Made a reality via cooperative community effort, the new Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library finally opened its doors to the public on Monday, Feb. 6, 1989.
The old library in Town Hall closed for business at 10 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 2, 1989, so the move to the new facility could commence. Remembering that day, Bright explained that a large number of volunteers helped move library media to the new building in a violent snow storm, but that years of effort paid off in the end.
“It was a wonderful opening, hundreds of people came to see the new building. Everyone loved the new library and was so proud of what they’d done to assist.”
The new library proved to be much more accessible than the old and staff and volunteers were able to provide more community services in the larger space. The new location was also incredibly convenient, close to the elementary school, senior center, high school, many residences and across from what was a substantial shopping center at the time. Expanded parking also made the facility much more accessible to those coming from further away. The new library facility became a place of community gathering and involvement.
Thanks to the forward thinking of Bright and other staff, the Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library was also a progressive facility. In fact, it was one of the first libraries in the state to provide a computer for public use and one of the smallest libraries in the country to provide that type of technology at the time.
“We were one of the first libraries in the state to have access to photos and stories from the Library of Congress online and that was thrilling,” said Bright.
The use of progressive technologies in the new library didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, Bright traveled to New York City to receive a $1,000 award for the use of media technologies and the library was incorporated into the American Memory Program by the Library of Congress, which made the aforementioned photos and stories available here in Pagosa. Only the Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library and the library at the University of Colorado had access to this program in the late 80s and early 90s.
Bright explained that her previous experience on library committees made her a big advocate for the use of new technologies in libraries. In her interview, she recalled the thrill having a single Macintosh computer available for public use at the new library.
The new facility was also recognized more locally for having progressive community and technology programs. As such, several senators and Roy Romer, Colorado governor at the time, came to visit the library.
“We were very proud and we’d show it off to anyone who wanted to come,” explained Bright. “We were ahead of our time and did a wonderful thing in the community. Because everyone cooperated, it paid off and we have a wonderful library today.”
The SUN also spoke with current library director Jackie Welch and staff member Shirley Iverson about how the legacy of community involvement continues at the library.
According to Iverson, who actually helped make the move to the new facility in 1989, the library is still a great place for community gathering. Iverson, having worked at the library since 1987, explained that program offerings have expanded in recent years and that program attendance is growing.
“I can’t think of a better place to work,” said Iverson. “It’s just a wonderful place to be.”
Welch further explained how the library continues to work to provide additional community services and learning opportunities.
These community services include weekly activities for children, teens and adults held at the library including technology classes, early learning outreach, gaming, and GED and ESL classes.
The Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library will also be expanding its parking lot this coming year after purchasing an adjacent property. Extended parking will almost double the number of available parking spaces at the facility, allowing for easier access.
The strategic plan of library staff and volunteers involves working to further connect with the whole community, even those not using the library often.
In pursuit of this goal, Welch explained that, next month, the library will be asking community members to fill out a survey. Staff and volunteers hope the survey will help provide direction for the library in the future and that it is intended to allow the community to express where they want the facility to go and what services are most valuable.
During her interview, Welch also offered a personal sentiment appropriate to share on the 25th anniversary of the Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library.
“Working at the library is undoubtedly the most rewarding career choice I ever made. Following in Lenore’s (Bright’s) footsteps has been a real challenge because she laid the foundation for this library with the help of the community — what she accomplished was amazing, and I cannot thank her enough.”
For 25 years since its official opening on Feb. 6, 1989, the Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library has provided a variety of community services and programs. Staff and volunteers strive to continually improve upon and offer more services to meet the needs of the community.