In 1942, the city of North Little Rock began
working toward passing a tax to support local libraries. The tax was placed on the ballot in 1945 and passed. Myrtle Deason was hired to operate the library and worked for a full year with the Board of Trustees before the library opened in 1947. The original library was housed in a turn-of-the-century building at 211 Maple St. It was two stories, with books on the first level and living quarters on the second. A library for the African-American community was established near the Missouri Pacific railroad grounds at 808 E. 13th St.
In 1959, a group of determined citizens and the library director, Elsie Wisenberger, sparked a drive for a Civic Improvement Bond issue that would include a new library building. On Dec. 30, 1962, the Maple Street Library and 13th Street Library moved into the new facility and formally dedicated as the William F. Laman Public Library of North Little Rock. It was named in honor of Mayor William F. “Casey” Laman who held office from 1958 to 1972 and then again from 1979 to 1980. Helen Elrod was the first director. Wilma Ankrum followed as director, and then in 1970 the library expanded under the direction of Patricia O’Bannon. Nancy Pack served as director from 1981 to 1987. Jeffrey L. Baskin served as library director fro 1987 to 2014. His dedication to revitalizing the library in big ways gave other libraries a prime example to model.
In February 2002, work began to expand and renovate the library. When the expansion was formally dedicated on April 22, 2003, it was nearly doubled in size, from about 25,000 square feet to almost 50,000 square feet. This expansion added a second floor, included new space for books and public programs, and created two large public reading rooms.
In May 2006, the library opened its first branch on Main Street in downtown North Little Rock. The Argenta Branch moved into what was once the City Hall and downtown fire station. The 2,550-square-foot branch held a collection of approximately 10,000 adult and children books and DVDs, and six computer stations with public Internet access. The library shared the historic building with the North Little Rock History Commission.
In the Spring of 2006, Laman plaza re-opened after extensive landscaping and renovations. The plaza received new rockwork, sidewalks and dramatic lighting. A variety of new trees and shrubs were planted, and flowering annuals were also added. The gazebo, designed and built in the late 1960's by famed architect E. Fay Jones, is still the centerpiece of the plaza. It overlooks the newly restored pond and fountains. Handsome wrought-iron gates and fencing now surround Laman Plaza.
In 2011, as the United States Postal Service announced the closure of 3,700 post offices nationwide due to massive deficits, Baskin saw opportunity. The old Argenta Post Office in downtown North Little Rock officially closed June 15, 2012, leaving this historic building vacant and without purpose. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “Local post office buildings have traditionally played an essential role in the lives of millions of Americans. Many are architecturally distinctive, prominently located, and cherished as civic icons in communities across the country.” The William F. Laman Public Library System believes in the Historic Argenta District. Its history and effort to preserve, restore, and revitalize Main Street and historic buildings and homes is important to the downtown area of North Little Rock. It brings community back to the city, boosting economic growth and creating sustainable and safe neighborhoods for its residents and visitors.
Community integration was always Baskin’s core motive behind directing the library into its future. His vision to move the library’s Argenta Branch into the Post Office finally came true.
With a loan from the City of North little Rock, the William F. Laman Public Library System purchased the former Post Office building for $775,000 on Sept. 30, 2012.
Renovations began March 5, 2013 at a cost of $2.8 million, with the plan to convert and renovate the old Post Office for use as the Argenta Branch Library. The renovated building features 15,300 square feet of public space, including a large children’s department, computer lab, exhibit hall/gallery, 140-seat auditorium, meeting room, vending area with seating and more than 12,000 books for children, teen and adult readers. The grand opening of the new Argenta Branch location was on April 5, 2014.
In the Fall of 2014, long-time Executive Director, Jeff Baskin, died suddenly. The library’s board of directors began a national search for a new director with the help of Bradbury Miller Associates, a professional library search firm. After a year of searching and interviewing potential candidates, Crystal Gates was selected as the new Executive Director. In October of 2015, she energetically took on the task of re-invigorating the library system. Positive changes have already taken place, and there are many more planned for the future.