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New library was built by many hands, many hearts

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On a bright and breezy Saturday morning in March 2014, Omar Acosta strolled along the promenade of the newly constructed Artesia Public Library. He marveled at the lofty ceilings and the abundance of natural light streaming through the numerous windows. With a sense of anticipation, he opened the doors to the public for the first time.

Hundreds of people filtered in, and Acosta, who was supposed to unlock the door and go right back to the circulation desk, found himself stuck holding the doors open for the building’s first official patrons.

“I wound up holding the doors open for what seemed like a long, long time for everyone to shuffle in,” he recalled. “Finally, I was able to get back to the circulation desk. It was overwhelming and noisy and there were lines of people who wanted to sign up for library cards, but it was a really great time. I’ll never forget it.”

Getting to that point took years of preparation, said Acosta, who was hired as a library clerk in 1995, almost 30 years ago. He now serves as the Library Supervisor.

The original library, constructed decades prior, had served the community well. But by 2010, its age was becoming apparent.

“It was a beautiful library, with its wooden beams and wood shelves, but it was really dated and it didn’t have much natural light,” Acosta said.
Additionally, the children’s area lacked an activity space, and the teen’s area was confined to a small alcove with shelves and a couple of beanbag chairs. “We needed more space,” Acosta added.

Artesia’s residents and officials recognized the need for a modern, updated facility. In a remarkable act of generosity, Estelle Yates — who was an avid supporter of Artesia and left behind a legacy of service to the community — offered to contribute half of the funds required to construct a library in exchange for the city’s commitment to build it.

So the city went to work on preparations. José M. Zelaya was chosen to be the architect, with RoehrSchmitt acting as a consultant on the project.

Library staff prioritized digitizing records to ensure accurate and efficient inventory management as the new library was being planned and built.

“At the time, we were still using the old card catalog system and manually entering numbers into our system,” Acosta said. “We had to take inventory of the entire collection — thousands of books — and assign barcodes and security tags on everything.”

In 2013, Jaynes Corporation embarked on the construction of the $12 million building, bringing Zelaya’s designs to life. The building was designed to be replete with symbolism and reflect surrounding environmental elements. The roofline was crafted to resemble the skyline of the Sacramento Mountains. Even the selection of carpeting was carefully considered, evoking the imagery of plowed fields.

The 25,000-square-foot building includes a special collections room, a teen area, a separate children’s area, a children’s reading theater with stage lighting, and a children’s activity room.

“We watched the whole thing go up,” said Wendy Kilpatrick, Adult Services Librarian, who, along with Acosta, worked as a library clerk at the time. “We’d walk outside everyday and you could see the progress, you could see the foundation, the walls, the windows. We were watching day by day.”

Despite nearing the end of construction, a significant task remained — installing the curved 16-foot-by-46-foot Peter Hurd mural, which had been moved from its previous location in Houston, Texas.

The building’s completion was a necessary prerequisite for adding the mural to avoid potential damage caused by weather and construction hazards. Zelaya’s innovative solution was a “pop-a-top” library design. Using a crane, the top portion of the building would be temporarily removed and replaced once the mural was successfully installed.

“It felt like the whole town came out to see the mural be installed. People were lining the streets and taking pictures,” Kilpatrick said. “It took hours, but you could still feel the excitement buzzing in the air.”

Along the highway, people eagerly anticipated the mural’s arrival. From the railroad tracks to Richardson Avenue, the sides of the highway were lined with umbrellas, camp chairs, and tripods. Some individuals even perched themselves on the roof of the First American Bank, all waiting in anticipation.

The roof had been lifted off the library with a crane and was set it down in the parking lot. Once the mural arrived and was unwrapped from its protective barrier, the crane picked up the mural and set it in place, having been perfectly installed on its nine columns.

“It was pretty amazing that they accomplished everything they wanted to do,” Kilpatrick said. “They had their plan in place, they knew what they were going to do, and they did it. It was amazing.”

A large curtain wall at the main reading room of the library allows the mural, aptly named “The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare For It,” can be seen from Main Street when the building is lit at night.

In January 2014, after the mural was installed and construction was finally completed, all the books still had to be moved in. A company was hired to take on that burden, but library staff still had to organize everything and prepare for the grand opening.

“It was a monumental undertaking,” Acosta said. “It was a lot of work in a short period of time.”

Walking into the library for the first time on a tour with other staff and Friends of the Library members, Acosta said he remembered feeling overwhelmed with gratitude.

“It was such a big open space, we were amazed by it,” he said. “It seemed impossible at the time that we were going to be ready by the opening, but we got through it without a hitch.”

Over the last decade, Acosta said he has come to realize how fortunate the library is to have such incredible support.

“I’m very thankful for the support the library gets, not only from the patrons who visit and use the library, but also from the administration and local leaders,” he said. “Estelle Yates was instrumental in getting this library open and we’re really very lucky. This is not the same for libraries across the nation.”

He said that Artesians recognize the importance of the library and the need to have one in the community.

“I’ve learned that support from the community is one of the most important things to make a library successful,” he added. “We’ve got that here and we’re probably going to have it for a really long time.”

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