More than a building: Huntsville library system poised for future growth

single-meta-cal June 8, 2021

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (HMCPL) was a lifeline for the community.

The 10-branch system’s digital collection, hotspot rentals and Wi-Fi access were critical tools for residents during the shutdown. From virtual children’s story time events to digital book clubs for more experienced readers, the library was active even while its doors were closed.

HMCPL is hosting Virtual Story Time events for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A young boy participates in the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library’s virtual story time during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As life settles into a new normal, HMCPL’s curbside services continue to offer connections for those who are still unable to visit the library in-person.

“The need to gather, to connect as a community, to share ideas, knowledge and interests are at the heart of the modern library structure,” said HMCPL Interim Executive Director Cindy Hewitt. “It is far more than a building.”

North Huntsville 

While providing basic services to patrons when they needed it the most, the HMCPL forged ahead on new state-of-the-art libraries in north and south Huntsville.

In April, the City hosted a ribbon cutting for the Dr. Robert Shurney Legacy Center, an 11-acre campus featuring the new North Huntsville Public Library and recreation facilities. The $11 million project was funded by the City of Huntsville and donations from private and government partners.

The Shurney Legacy Center operates on Sparkman Drive at the site of the former Berachah Academy and adjacent Bessie K. Russell Library branch. In its place stands a 19,000-square-foot library with meeting rooms, study areas and a children’s program space.

North Huntsville Public Library Now Open Sign

The North Huntsville Public Library opened in April on Sparkman Drive.

It also features a workforce development lab, makerspace and 3D printer, and an automated sorting machine. Just two months after opening, Hewitt said the North Huntsville site is slated to become a valuable gathering space for residents of District 1 and the greater Huntsville community.

“The new North Huntsville Library has been well received,” she said. “The combination of the park, gym and library has attracted many new patrons.”

District 1 Council Member Devyn Keith shares Hewitt’s belief that the new North Huntsville Public Library is having a big impact on his district.

“This area will be affected by what happens at this campus, and I look forward to seeing the growth that comes to our district as a result of this incredible project,” he said.

South Huntsville 

Across town, HMCPL is also building a library branch in South Huntsville. Located at the Sandra Moon Community Complex, the new South Huntsville Public Library is on target for an August opening at the northern end of the old Grissom High School.

Hewitt said the $9.5 million, 30,750-square-foot facility was carefully designed to meet the community’s needs well into the future.

South Huntsville Public Library interior

The new South Huntsville Public Library will open in August at the site of the old Grissom High School.

“Its location within the Sandra Moon Complex gives the South Huntsville and larger community access to all of our resources while enjoying a beautiful recreational facility, the Arts Center and community gathering at its best,” she said. “Everything within and outside the library is designed to fulfill the library’s mission to help our community create their own futures, explore the universe of ideas and connect with our community and the world.”

The new library will include an open/bookstore-style floor plan, makerspace studio, a meeting room, children’s puppet theater and teen gaming center. It will also feature an outside vendor coffee shop and indoor fireplace for cozy reading.

“Someone once described libraries as the ‘community’s living room,'” said Huntsville City Council President Jennie Robinson, who represents District 3. “They are more than places to store books. We are looking forward to opening the new South Huntsville library as a place where we can gather, learn together and build community.”

We are looking forward to opening the new South Huntsville library as a place where we can gather, learn together and build community.

What’s next

Once the South Huntsville Public Library is open, the focus will shift to HMCPL’s downtown and North Huntsville locations.

“While an iconic symbol of downtown Huntsville, the building is aging and in great need of a facelift,” Hewitt said. “Additionally, the new North Huntsville location has an unfinished second floor that we plan to develop into collaborative space for the nonprofit community with an emphasis on workforce development.”

Libraries have changed roles significantly over the last couple of decades but literacy still remains at the heart of HMCPL’s mission. With a community of avid readers and strong support base, HMCPL is poised for continued success for years to come.

“As people emerge from their enforced isolation, libraries are a safe place to gather, reconnect and explore our world,” Hewitt said. “The Huntsville community has proven that they love their libraries. The ongoing support of patrons and local government, businesses and community organizations will keep the library a vibrant, living part of the social structure of our community for years to come.”