The Modern Public Library

When I first started working at my library, it was at a temporary site while the old building was being extensively remodeled. A few months later it opened for a thrilled community. Another nearby library was also under construction using the same architects. Some elements were the same but where that library chose glass and marble and chrome for its surfaces, our library decision-makers felt that our community was old-fashioned and would prefer wood and nature motifs. So that’s what they built, and it was beautiful. But the library world has changed a lot in the past 15 years, and it was definitely time for an update.

We spent the last year under construction. This time we did not move out to a temporary site, but did the project in phases, moving people and collections multiple times. In case you were wondering, that is not fun. It is super-stressful for everyone concerned, particularly if the project includes installing a new HVAC system with its associated duct work and noise and temperature swings. But we survived, and now we are welcoming the public into their new spaces.

For awhile, I felt a little conflicted about the results. We threw out the nature theme and went with the glass and chrome look, but with eye-popping color on the walls and color and pattern in the carpets. The more adult areas are sleek and elegant, and the lighting design throughout is spectacular. We pulled out the circulation desk and added self-checks, and we downsized the public service desks. I’ll admit, it no longer feels like a quaint and cozy library as you enter, and it is not the Mayberry Library any more. I wondered, have we changed the library to not match the community?

They would have loved an update on the old look, with new nature-themed fabrics and new versions of wood furniture and wooden shelving. But the message that would have sent is one of nostalgia, prompting responses like, “Aww, here is the library like I used to remember.” That wouldn’t have been a bad thing, exactly. But would the community have continued to think of the library as a vital part of their lives? Would they have been willing to continue funding something they associate more with the past than the future? Would they understand how essential it continues to be to the community?

The message they are getting instead is: This is a whole new library. It is vibrant and gorgeous and bright. There are museum-quality installations for children to play with while picking up early learning skills. There are rooms to use to study in or to conduct meetings, with quiet space for thinking. There is a place for the teenagers to go be together and another space for the middle graders to hang out after school. There is a whole floor of computers, with a training lab for learning new things. It is all about the future.

We retained most of our book collection, and we haven’t lost sight of what the community is counting on us to provide. But we have sent the message loud and clear that we are the library for now and the future, with cozy areas and noisy areas and staff who step up to help them. We have retained the best of the past while moving forward. I am pretty proud of that.

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2 Responses to The Modern Public Library

  1. Andrea J. says:

    I was just there yesterday! I love what you’ve done with the place. Amazing what a change it is, without major structural work. Gorgeous!

  2. debsg1 says:

    This prompted me to remember something I had been too busy to share yesterday while working in KidSpace…a ‘more senior’ citizen came in to our desk, stretched out his arms and said ‘I’ve lived in Niles for 50 years and I just love the colors here’. He had a quick tour and was quite pleased with the vibrant design…

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