Gloria Coles became the Director of Flint Public Library in April 1984. She was the first African American woman to hold that position, and she spent the next 20 years living into her vision of what a library should be and do for the community.
Ms. Coles believed that the library should be fully engaged with the community. That meant serving people in the building, bringing services out to the people, and creating new ways to enrich the lives of the underserved.
She accomplished these goals in creative and varied ways. In 1990, the Library raised funds and built an 8,750 sq. ft. two-story addition to the main building. The addition provided for an enlarged Reference area and new space for the Local History and Genealogy collections, which had previously been difficult to access in their basement location. This was the first (and last) significant building project from the time the building was constructed in 1958 until the renovation began in 2020. She also brought public computers to the Library, along with a career and job center, and a bookmobile. Ms. Coles encouraged the staff to explore and expand programs for adults and children, including concerts, the Michigan Storytellers Festival, and partnerships with the African American Quilters Guild and the African American Sports Hall of Fame. Many of these initiatives are beloved, long-standing traditions in the community to this day.
She also guided the Library during its transition from Board of Education governance to its status as an independent district library in 1999. Working with a supportive Board of Trustees, Coles spearheaded a successful millage campaign in 2002 that provided the Library with 2 mills of funding in perpetuity, in addition to renewable millages that have been approved by voters ever since.
Under her leadership, Flint Public Library won the prestigious John Cotton Dana Award for outstanding public relations. It also received the National Award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the highest honor conferred upon museums or libraries for “above and beyond” service to the community.
Ms. Coles herself is an avid library user who enjoys reading a wide variety of genres, and she is a long-time member of many book clubs. The Library staff predicts that the Sky Salon will be a tremendously popular location for lively and thought-provoking book club discussions!
Ms. Coles was an inspiring leader, a tireless advocate, and a force for change. The unique architecture and arresting qualities of the Sky Salon are a fitting tribute to her lasting impact on the Library and the greater Flint community.