The Norman Library has been known as the smallest public library in the state. Located in the town square of Norman (Montgomery County), the single-story structure constructed of brick has been used as a library and for other purposes since its construction. According to the Department of Arkansas Heritage, it once held the Guinness Book of World Records title as the smallest free-standing public library in the country.
Norman was founded in 1907 along the Gurdon and Fort Smith Railroad. The town quickly grew to support several lumber mills. Originally named Womble, the name was changed in 1925. After most of the timber surrounding the community was harvested, the economy and population declined. Many residents moved to other towns to continue to work in the timber industry. Those who remained continued to make improvements to Norman, and a Garden Club was founded a group of local women in 1936. One of the first projects of the club was to replace the barbed-wire fence that surrounded the local park and town square with a native stone wall. By 1939, and with the help of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the wall was constructed.
The Garden Club’s crowning achievement came to fruition in 1940 with the establishment of the library in the center of the park. The building was originally constructed to serve as the town’s pumping station, moving water from the Caddo River to the water tower on the other side of town. Measuring 170 square feet, the small building was rarely used. Even city workers infrequently entered the structure. Marie Pinkerton, the president and founder of the Garden Club, approached the city council to inquire about acquiring the use of the building for the establishment of a town library. The council agreed, and the Garden Club raised funds to furnish the building. Mission oak shelving was used to house the more than 500 books that the group gathered. Two librarians were hired, and the library opened to the public. It remained open intermittently over the next half century. During this time, it also served as both a temporary office and jail.
The building is a single-story masonry structure with a gabled roof. It is rectangular and features a Craftsman-style front porch over the northern entrance, while the southern entrance has a simple shed-roof porch. Two nine-paned windows are in both the eastern and western walls of the building.
In the 1990s, a group was organized to restore the structure, and eventually it was reopened to the public on a limited basis. In 1993, the park and the library were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Throughout the 1990s, the library was open five days a week and served the community as the only point of internet access in the surrounding area. Grant money was received to repair the stone wall around the park and to replace the roof of the library building. In 2006, the roof of the library was replaced, but it began leaking almost immediately. The library was closed, and efforts began to raise more money to complete the restoration, which was finally completed in 2013. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of the library for much of 2020, but it reopened with reduced hours that September. The library now has approximately 3,000 books, two computers, and a printer with wi-fi. The building may be viewed in the city park.
For additional information:
Schmidt, Sabine, and Don House. Remote Access: Small Public Libraries in Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2021.
Sesser, David. “Library Profiles: Norman: The Smallest Library in Arkansas.” Arkansas Libraries 68 (Winter 2011): 24.
Story, Kenneth. “Norman Town Square.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. January 20, 1993. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/MN0038.nr.pdf (accessed June 1, 2017).
Henderson State University
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