Renovated Knoxville Public Library Reopens

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Jim Butler, on behalf of the Knoxville Ambassadors, presents a plaque to Library DIrector Roslin Thompson. (photo by Steve Woodhouse)

Hundreds of people were on hand Saturday, Aug. 24, for the grand opening of the newly-renovated Knoxville Public Library.

In the bright sunshine and perfectly still warmth, Pennie Sommar, co-chair of the fundraising campaign that made the approximately $4M project possible, welcomed the crowd and emceed the event.

“I hope people realize how big a deal this is for the community,” Mayor Brian Hatch said. “Thank you all for making this happen.”

The original library was built in 1912. It was renovated to double the size and make the building Americans with Disabilities Act compliant in 1990.

After 25 years, in 2015, the public spoke and gave its approval to the City to borrow $2 million to renovate the facility. Construction began in 2019 after $1.75 million in private donations were collected to make it happen.

“I see the citizens of Knoxville who voted for this,” Library Board President Dave Garcia said. He praised the many donors, Friends of the Library, and Library Director Roslin Thompson – who has been active at every stage of the library project.

“You could be the MVP,” Garcia told Thompson.

“It truly has been a wonderful journey,” added fundraising co-chair Harv Sprafka. He complimented the entire staff, saying that their hard work, positive attitudes and sense of customer service make the library great.

The crowd gathered at the library’s grand opening. (photo by Steve Woodhouse)

The interior of the library has completely changed, with unique chairs, tables, study rooms named after major donors, new computers and more. Much more natural light comes into the library and a fireplace is included next to seats for casual reading. Those are just the things one can see, with plenty of infrastructure done to upgrade and maintain the library well into the future.

“Libraries are just as important as ever,” State Librarian Michael Scott said. He urged the community to visit as often as they can.

Among the visitors was nine-year-old Patrick Ruth, the last person to leave the library before the renovation and move to temporary home inside the former East Elementary. Ruth said he really wanted to be at the grand opening.

Patrick Ruth was the last patron of the old Knoxville Public Library. (photo by Steve Woodhouse)

“I like to read a lot and mostly the books,” Ruth said. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is his favorite. When asked about his classmates, he said, “I”m pretty much the one who likes books my age.”

The Knoxville Ambassadors aided Thompson with a ribbon cutting. Cake and other refreshments were served by Friends of the Library, as the crowd slowly poured in to look inside the building. Garcia knew there would be a big crowd at the grand opening.

“People supported it from the beginning and they’ll show up,” Garcia said.