WALTHILL, Neb. | Libraries bring to mind images of shelves full of books, any of them providing the reader with an educational experience or an escape into a good story.

In Walthill, the library has become a good story in a community looking to revitalize itself.

On Wednesday evening, the community will gather for a ribbon-cutting and grand opening before the Walthill Public Library reopens Thursday morning in a bright, roomy building that once housed the town's fire trucks and ambulance.

"It's really a dream come true for everyone. Who would have thought four years ago that we'd have a new library?" said Nola Briggs, who's been the library director for the past 10 years.

Like a good book, the new library opens a world of possibilities to Walthill residents of all ages. Briggs will tell you that the library here isn't just a place to check out a book.

Its public computers have some of the most reliable internet service in town. It's not uncommon for adults to line up to use them. For many, it's the only place they can go to fill out online paperwork.

The library is also a popular after-school stop for elementary school students who take advantage of Briggs' 20-20 rule: if you read for 20 minutes, you get to use the internet for 20 minutes.

Now it can be so much more.

"It's not just a library," Briggs said. "It is a community building that hopefully is homey and welcoming."

Certainly more welcoming than the former site - a cramped, 800-square-foot building that had served as the library since 1980. There was no storage area. Kids bumped into each other because there was so little room to sit. Water flowed in the back door after heavy rains. And it was next door to a bar, which created another set of problems, least among them empty beer cans lying around outside the library.

"I just plugged away and did the best I could where I was," Briggs said. "We wanted a place that would be safe, that was easier to care for and larger."

She and the library board waited patiently for a better facility. As Walthill leaders began to embark on a downtown revitalization plan, the library board's patience was rewarded.

In 2014, a new fire hall was built, and the village board decided that the former fire hall would be remodeled as the library's new home.

Over the course of three years, the village secured more than $400,000 through grants and local donations to turn a fire hall into a library. Briggs admits it was tough initially to picture a library inside the building.

"At first I thought, 'that old fire hall?'" Then she walked in, was smitten with the corrugated steel ceilings and began to picture the possibilities.

With the library set to open, she's still thinking of all the possibilities, except they now deal with programming rather than floor plans.

Now that she's got room for kids to spread out, Briggs said the new location will allow her and her assistant, Rebecca Barber, to do much more.

Briggs looks out the windows, sees the park across the street and envisions spreading a blanket out on the ground and reading to kids. They can take nature walks and talk about protecting the environment, pick up trash and explore other ways to make a difference in the community.

Inside, there's a kitchen, something the library never had before. Briggs plans on using it to prepare meals for the library's monthly family fun reading night.

There's an area with couches and chairs for teenagers, who tended to avoid the old library because they didn't want to be crowded next to little kids. Briggs hopes to add more programming for teenagers and middle school students and also attract more adult readers.

The new site has certainly attracted interest, judging from the number of adults and children Briggs has seen peeking through the windows.

They're catching a glimpse of what Walthill can become.

"It's so uplifting because of the problems we have," Briggs said. "The town has really suffered and it needed an uplift."

This Omaha Indian Reservation community continues to battle poverty. Old buildings with boarded-up windows line Main Street. There's momentum to change all that.

The village just built a splash pad for kids. There's talk about a recreational trail through town. Plans call for other building projects to bring new life to Walthill's downtown area.

Briggs is happy that the library can be part of that.

"The people in this community, they love it when their children can be happy, and they like to have them come to the library," she said.

Once inside, those children, as well as adults, can find books, information and perhaps the inspiration that could help provide Walthill a story with a happy ending.


Court reporter

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