Saturday’s grand opening of the Forest Green Library was bittersweet. The person most invested in its construction and excited about its completion couldn’t attend.
Award-winning journalist and author Karen Blumenthal died after a heart attack in May of 2020. She had championed the idea of building a new, state-of-the art library to replace Forest Green, one of the Dallas Public Library’s smallest and most outdated facilities.
“Karen would be overjoyed,” said Blumenthal’s husband, Scott McCartney, at the ribbon cutting. “This is beyond what she ever dreamed, and she dreamed about this for a long time. Karen believed so strongly that libraries are far more than a book depository. They are community centers, they are a place for people to learn a new language and get a GED to lift up their family. For me there’s a sense that we all finished the job for her.”
Blumenthal wrote nine young adult books on subjects as wide-ranging as Bonnie and Clyde, the stock market crash of 1929 and the Tommy Gun. She posthumously received the 2020 James Madison Award from the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and the 2021 May Dickson Exall Award from the Friends of the Dallas Public Library (FODPL). She relied heavily on the Dallas Public Library system for her research, and she frequented many of its branches to select books with her children.
“Karen wrote nonfiction, and she took on complicated subjects,” said McCartney. “She thought books should give young people the tools to take on complex subjects in a complicated world. If they could understand how Prohibition came about and how it fell apart, or the history of Title IX and women’s equality or even the biography of Steve Jobs she did was a portrait of an awkward teenager who could be a real jerk. She thought it was important for awkward kids to see this and learn it was part of life. She wanted kids to have these stories in their toolbox to be more informed and make better decisions.”
“Karen was frustrated with the Forest Green branch – the collection was terrible, the building was old and small and nobody wanted to spend time there. It crushed her,” continued McCartney. “She called a friend involved in Friends of the Dallas Public Library and asked why they weren’t doing something. It was a time when the city was smashing the library budget. As she always did, Karen started researching and found that Dallas, per person, had the worst funding of all major cities. The friend asked for Karen’s help, and she put together documents to show the city council that libraries were terribly underfunded and to educate them on what libraries do. There was a sense that libraries aren’t needed because people get books from Amazon, but for some it’s the only place to access the internet, take English as a second language or get a GED.”
McCartney credits city leaders for responding to his wife’s call.
“Our city’s libraries are vital to our city’s communities. I know this is true in Lake Highlands, one of our city’s finest and strongest neighborhoods,” said Mayor Eric Johnson as he prepared to cut the ribbon at opening day ceremonies. “Dallas libraries give our residents of all ages places to learn. They are places kids can escape in a book or be entertained by educational programming. They are places where adults can look for new jobs and learn new skills. And they are places for families to gather and for community groups to meet and discuss important issues facing our neighborhoods and our city.”
“Karen helped bring a genuine sense of love and advocacy to this community,” said Councilman Adam McGough. “That’s what I believe this library is going to continue to do every single day. It was not always easy to get this library built. There were several times we were on the chopping block. I remember when the first iteration of the bond came out, and Forest Green was not on that list.”
More than 80 speakers showed up at the council meeting to advocate for the project, McGough said, and they eventually won the respect – and the vote – of city leaders. The new Forest Green Library represents an expansion from 9,000 to 19,000 square feet of space for library materials, meeting rooms and classroom spaces. Two Early Learning System touch screen computers provide educational and entertainment games for 2-12 year olds, while older kids can enjoy the virtual reality system and other educational technology. Self-serve check out stations, 20 public computers, and a document scanner are also available.
“This is a generational project,” said McGough. “Libraries are life-changing, and this library is cutting edge.”
“Karen did so much work to ensure this library was on the 2017 budget, and her friends and family carried on her vision,” said Mary Wilonsky, executive director of FODPL. “We’re just very thankful. This library is going to make a big difference for this community.”
The Forest Green Library is at 9619 Greenville Avenue near Braum’s. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday.