There is a familiar face to literature lovers lounging on a bench outside the Grand Island Public Library.
Famous author Mark Twain has set up permanent residence there in the form of a bronze statue. Sitting with one leg crossed over the other and holding a book in his hands, the novelist is looking upward toward the flags. There is plenty of space on the bench by Mr. Twain for visitors who’d like to rest for a moment or have their photo taken with the writer of books such as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
The statue, created by artist Gary Lee Price, is a donation from Ray and Jennifer O’Connor and family. It was installed last week in front of what will become an outdoor discovery area for children. It joins two other statues the local family has given back to the community. The others are of Albert Einstein at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport and St. Francis of Assisi at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
The addition joins another statue outside the library featuring a grandfather reading to his two grandchildren. That artwork, donated by Chief Foundation Inc., has been in place since 2007.
Library Director Steve Fosselman said art plays an important role at the library.
“The most inspiring thing about a library is being able to place art and people in the same area with lifelong learning resources so when someone sees a piece of art they will see something that inspires them and gives them an emotional feeling,” he said.
The art alcove located opposite the children’s section in the library is a popular destination for visitors.
“It’s amazing how children and their parents love to go around and look at the art when we have an art exhibit. To us it’s a bind agent. People come into a library because they know it is going to be imaginative. It’s going to be invigorating. It’s a vibrant place. It’s quiet in some areas, it’s inspiring in some areas and it’s noisy in some areas,” Fosselman said.
The Mark Twain piece in particular is fitting for the library.
“(He’s) such a prolific author, so well-known to most every boy and girl and folks that are my age and above,” he said.
The statue will be formally dedicated at 2 p.m. April 28. That day will also serve as the grand reopening of the library since the building was renovated.
The Grand Island Public Library Foundation will host the event and will recognize individuals who donated to the $1.9 million renovation project that started last summer and added improvements inside and out.
There have been three main parts of the project. One is enhancing the parking lot and renovating the entryway into the building.
Through traffic from Second and Third streets was closed off to improve safety of pedestrians walking from the parking lot to the library.
“We’ve made it so it is much safer for the public to get out of their cars, especially in the center spine parking. They can just walk in front of their car, go down that spine, go into the entrance plaza and go into the library,” Fosselman said.
Inside the library, the newly named meeting commons received a facelift and provides space for the public to have informal gatherings. New meeting rooms will also have video capabilities.
A makerspace was created where people can use high-tech equipment, such as 3-D printers, a CNC router, laser and vinyl cutters, button maker and sewing machine.
“They made up a space where people can use their imagination, design projects and, once again, use our resources to figure things out,” Fosselman said of the makerspace.
The teenage area also got a makeover.
“We are making sure we have a good space for the kids that come in, the teenagers. And once they get out of high school, we are hoping what we have done through the makerspace and the teen area has made them much more successful and gotten them ready to either go on to college or trade school or fit into a career,” Fosselman said.