FARMINGTON — A short distance from the hustle and bustle of 20th Street where the sidewalk ends stands an architectural anomaly. From above the building looks like a giant seashell set in the middle of a grassy park.
Once you leave the city sidewalk, a path curves past waterfalls and sandstone benches, solstice markers and glass-etched petroglyphs.
Entering the building you find a vaulted rotunda with various halls and doorways that afford opportunities to wander, discover and dream.
Where are you? The Farmington Library, of course.
Since it opened in August 2003, the library's flagship building has received more than 30,000 visitors each month who use its computers, check out books, take a class, join a reading program, see a visiting author or film, or to simply claim a cozy chair to read, study or rest.
After a decade of operations, the library faces budget cuts mirroring the local economy that challenge the staff to find creative ways to continue providing services popular in the community.
Set on 10 acres with two outdoor amphitheaters, the 50,000-square-foot building still has room to grow, a flexibility the library's former Broadway location lacked.
"A library is like a pond, it must be fed by fresh streams constantly or it can go stagnant," said Karen McPheeters, who has served as library director since 1989. "With a constant influx of new technology and a diverse and caring staff, we squeeze every penny out of our budget to provide resources, services and programs for people in our community."
Despite declining budgets, McPheeters still is overseeing innovations and new programs at the city's award-winning library, the first in the country to offer a fully automated drive-up book drop.
"When we moved to this location, we took the input of the community as a priority," McPheeters said. "We wanted to honor what people cared about, what was important to them and to incorporate what needs there were into the design."
Now, the library again is looking to hear from its users about what direction it should go.
"This is a good time to ask, What is next? Do we expand? Is it bricks and mortar or services?" she said. "We're saying, here's our 10 years. Where do you want to go?"
Public meetings in the fall will give residents a chance to be heard.
One program that McPheeters believes is improving lives in marked ways is called "Prime Time." Offered at various schools around the county during the school year and at the library during the summer, Prime Time brings as many as 22 families together to read and discuss three children's books each week for six weeks. The program -- created in 2001 from a model begun in Louisiana by that state's Endowment for the Humanities program -- also offers book selections in both Spanish and Navajo languages.
Youth Services Coordinator Flo Trujillo has seen connections and growth in both the children and the parents who participate.
"A session begins with dinner and a chance to socialize, to be fed first," Trujillo said. "From there, we read aloud and share the story together, asking humanities-based questions that have no right or wrong answers. The value comes from the fact that families are learning and making discoveries together."
Gerald and Tami Jacquez live in Kirtland and have participated with their three children the last two years.
"We enjoy the stories, the food, the discussion, the variety," Tami Jacquez said. "We like the fact that the books work with both the parents and the kids. We learn so much, from cultural concepts to authors we didn't know about before."
Bill and Kristen McLiverty and their children say it presents a different way to read and learn.
"I like the fact that the library staff calls on everybody," Bill McLiverty said. "Sitting around a room with people from different occupations, ages and backgrounds is an impressive and amazing opportunity to hear all those perspectives."
Like all of the programs the library offers, Prime Time underscores the mission of the library and McPheeters hopes to offer the experience to more and more families.
"Many of the families are coming into the library for the first time and the growth they experience together is profound," she said. "I firmly believe that if we could do more of these programs each year, we could make a serious dent in the literacy deficits in this community. Isn't that what a library is for?"
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and email@example.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.