A tour of the Cossitt Library

At lunchtime I took a tour of Downtown’s Cossitt Library and learned about programs and plans for its future.

The library is at the corner of Front and Monroe, and is one of 18 in the Memphis Public Library system. It is the oldest library in the system, having been built in 1890 and opened in 1893. Each of the libraries in the system is tailored to serve its immediate community, and that’s why the Cossitt Library has been closed for the past year: It is being renovated to better serve the needs of the Downtown community. It is expected to reopen in early 2020.

Many people think of the library as a book warehouse, but in these modern, electronic, social times a library’s mission needs to extend well beyond that. It needs to be an information center, an active and engaging community resource. Cossitt will recognize a diversity of talent Downtown with creative arts and dance classes, technology and programming workshops, lecture and discussion series, community-led art installations, performances and more. The courtyard area outside facing Front Street will be re-done. It will provide a space for outside seating when the weather is nice, as well as outdoor fitness and yoga classes.

A cafe will use the talent of local chefs and restaurants to provide light fare including sandwiches, salads, and drinks. It will open directly to the courtyard.

Two meeting rooms, seating up to 15 people, will be available to the community and will be able to be reserved. Programmed discussions and classes can be held there as well as meetings.

Wi-Fi will be available throughout the facility. You can bring your own laptop, or if you don’t have one you will be able to check out one of the library’s 15 laptops and carry it anywhere on the premises.

There will be an installation remembering the sit-ins and read-ins that happened at Cossitt in 1960. At that time, African-Americans could come to the facility and use its resources in house, but they could not check out books. The protests at Cossitt were the beginning of the desegregation of libraries throughout the Jim Crow South. Amazingly, most of the protesters are still alive and quite active in their 80s.

Books will be rotated out every six to nine months. The initial set of books will focus on African-American history and the civil rights movement because of the part the library played in it. Of course, they will have something for everyone. If you have particular requests for books, contact the library. They are looking for community suggestions, always.

On the second floor there will be music listening stations. As with the books, the music will be carefully curated and rotated out from time to time.

The second floor will also have studio spaces where community members can record, produce, and share graphic design, music, and video projects. The studios will have electronic equipment and computers to support many different-sized work sessions. 40 years ago, musicians practically had to mortgage their houses to pay for expensive studio time to record an album. Soon, you’ll be able to record your album for free at the library.

There will be a workshop space for creative technologies. Collaboration with local professionals will produce classes on tech such as Photoshop, AutoCAD, photo and video editing, programming, robotics, circuitry, and more. There will be work tables and lockable storage.

There will be a 2300 SF group performance space, although its size will be able to be adapted to needs. Full-mirrored walls and Marley flooring will support diverse dance, music, acting, and fitness classes. Lil’ Buck will teach Memphis Jookin’ classes there.

The library will have 5 sewing machines and they already have someone committed to leading a sewing and knitting program.

The library will be a place where entrepreneurs can come for resources. Many of the entrepreneurs using the library have businesses that are up and running, but weren’t sure how to get the website and e-commerce presence going. San Francisco-based company Automattic, which has an easy-to-use suite of tools including WordPress.com and WooCommerce, donated $15,000 of software to the library. The library then reached out to web developers at neighborhood businesses, and they are donating their time training the entrepreneurs on how to use the tools.

In summary, the vision for the library is to be a place where you can come and feel like an actively engaged member of your community, a place where you can meet your neighbor. I can’t wait to enjoy its amenities once renovations are complete.