Shawnee Branch Celebrates Decades of Service to Community

The Shawnee Library branch is celebrating 30 years at its current location, 13811 Johnson Drive, sharing a campus with an aquatic center and civic center.

But Library roots run even deeper in Shawnee and date back nearly 70 years, to a charming little schoolhouse. In fact, the very first Johnson County Library branch opened its doors June 3, 1953 in Shawnee, in the old Dunbar School at 57th and Reeder Road. The facility was first run by volunteers from the Friends of Johnson County Library and later by paid staff.

The Shawnee Library moved to rented space near Nieman Road on Johnson Drive, but budget cuts forced its closure in 1958. For the next 34 years, Shawnee was served by the Antioch branch.

Library and civic leaders always wanted to re-establish a Shawnee branch. That became even more essential with population growth in the 1980s. The city offered the present site on its Johnson Drive civic campus, and the branch opened there on April 25, 1992.

The building, designed by Gould Evans architects, had floor-to-ceiling windows, a bright, airy interior and a vaulted roof resembling an open book. Its design was so impressive that it was featured in the Library Journal’s annual architecture issue that same year.

Serving patrons today is a joy for Branch Manager Anna Madrigal and Assistant Branch Manager Megan Clark.

“It’s not as big and flashy as some of our new locations, but it’s well established for the families and individuals who utilize it,” Madrigal said. “We’re in the middle of a residential area. People can plan their whole day around going to the pool and then coming to the Library or the opposite.”

Madrigal loves the tall windows with lovely views. “There’s a lot of nature. It kinds of spills over into the trees behind it,” she said. “It’s just a peaceful place for people to hang out.”

Madrigal and Clark are especially looking forward to building improvements planned for the first half of 2023. The branch will get all new shelves, furniture, carpet and paint throughout, new heating and cooling systems and other upgrades.

“We are just really investing in the infrastructure of the building to make sure it’s good for the next 30 years,” Madrigal said.

The branch will shut down for about ten weeks, with the timing not yet certain.

Madrigal started as branch manager in November 2019 and Clark in January 2020, just prior to the pandemic. They are pleased to see a gradual return to normalcy, with the meeting room back open and used heavily by homes associations, scouts and other groups. Storytime returns sometime next year. The branch is now a polling place and a Red Cross blood drive location.  

Shawnee’s door count has dropped significantly since the Monticello branch opened in 2018. Still, Shawnee maintains a loyal patron base of families, students and avid readers. It had 78,815 visitors and circulated 136,406 items in 2021.

A large senior living development with apartments and villas is opening nearby in 2023, and their social coordinator has already reached out to Madrigal for information about Library services.

Clark sees the Shawnee Library as a crucial, welcoming community hub.

“I think it’s going to be maybe even more beautiful when we have the renovation,” she said. “Even though we’re not one of the busier branches, it’s a nice destination for our patrons. We have a hard-working staff  who make it what it is, and provide the service to make them want to come back.”