Library Construction and Renovation

state of america's librries report 2011

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Libraries becoming ever more green (and saving money, too)

Environmental sustainability continued to gain the attention of librarians throughout 2010, beginning in January at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, where former U.S. Vice President Al Gore delivered the Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture. In 2010, eight of the 85 submissions to American Libraries’ annual Library Design Showcase were certified under the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council; in 2001, only eight buildings — of any type — had been LEED-certified. Another 11 libraries were actively seeking certification.

LEED certification may be the gold standard, but even “harvesting sunlight” can save energy (and money) and can brighten up a library in a way that fluorescent lighting cannot. Still, using a computer in the sun’s bright glare can be a challenge, so sunlight must be controlled to be desirable. Many new library buildings have mechanisms in place to do just that. One example among many: Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, N.Y., makes extensive use of “daylight harvesting.” In this building, designed by Ann Beha Architects, a roof monitor glazed with polycarbonate panels diffuses natural light, while sensors respond to the brightness and dim artificial lighting accordingly.

Even landscaping can have an impact on the greenness of a construction project by reducing pollution and promoting biodiversity.

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Spaces and places designed to attract children

Libraries continue to draw patrons of all ages. Adults find services and meeting spaces at their libraries that are available nowhere else in their community. And to attract children and turn them into lifelong readers and library users, libraries are building spaces as creative and playful as their youngest patrons. The expansion of Brentwood (Tenn.) Public Library, for example, increased the size of the children’s library considerably. Styled by Earl Swensson Associates as a park, the theming includes trees, nature murals, woodland animals and a fantasyland of books. An animated owl in one of the trees greets visitors, and a flat screen adjacent to the story room tells the story of the area’s Native Americans.

Other examples of “kids’ stuff” include the new Lochwood Branch of Dallas Public Library, with its open and appealing children’s area, highlighted by furnishings whose colors pop; the new $14.7 million Sayville (N.Y.) Library, whose children’s room includes a Tree of Knowledge in the center of the stacks, a “beach” space and alphabet blocks leading to the toddler section; and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Allegheny’s children’s room, with furnishings — including playful red elephants — scaled back to be just the right size for kids.

Finally, while many people still want nothing more than the comfort and quiet dignity of a traditional style when they go to the library, almost all libraries are placing increased emphasis on access to technology, particularly as the economic recovery drags on and millions of Americans rely on public libraries for their first and often only choice for Internet access. (See the “Public Library” and “Library Technology” sections of this report.)

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Other success stories from 2010

Here are a few other examples of creativity and resourcefulness shown by new or renovated libraries in 2010:

  • Bridging the digital divide –– Houston Public Library’s new Morris Frank Library is a $2.31 million, 10,409-square-foot branch designed with a futuristic theme. Designed by m Architects, Morris Frank is the third of four HPL Express libraries, which focus on offering services electronically to help bridge the digital divide and which can be opened and operated for less than the cost of a traditional library.
  • New library in San Diego –– Construction of a new $185 million main library in downtown San Diego, was begun despite concerns that the project could leave taxpayers on the hook should private donors fail to raise enough money to pay for it. The City Council voted in June to move forward with the construction under the promise that a fundraising campaign will be able to collect the additional $32.5 million needed to finish the job. If donors don’t emerge, the city would have to either use taxpayer money to fill the gap or leave the library’s interior unfinished. The full building will be almost 500,000 square feet, including two levels of parking, an auditorium and a coffee bar.
  • Yes, Virginia . . . : Despite the continued economic downturn, three significant construction projects in Virginia continued as originally proposed: A new downtown building for Norfolk Public Library, a new city library for Petersburg (expected to cost 25 percent less than expected because of lower construction costs) and a new Appomattox Regional Library System branch in Prince George County.
  • In Brooklyn, a $3,250,000 grant –– Brooklyn Public Library announced in May that it had received a $3,250,000 grant from the Leon Levy Foundation — the largest ever to the library –– to establish an information commons at its Central Library. The commons — often a feature in academic libraries but not in public libraries — will feature a wireless training center, seven private study rooms, seating for 60 laptop computer users, 25 PCs and a help desk for reference service and on-demand training.
  • A health sciences commons –– Some 5,200 square feet of space at the Ische Library at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans were renovated into a 24/7 Library Commons. Custom-routed screens, in the form of abstracted medical imagery like fat cells, neurons or heart muscle, define spaces in the Commons without isolating them.
  • Richardsonian Gothic style –– In Massachusetts, the Townsend Public Library was designed by Johnson Roberts Associates in Richardsonian Gothic style, with a central barrel–vaulted reading room that reflects the large entry arch, lit by clerestory windows and articulated by wooden ribs that lead patrons into the space.
  • Circulation, yes; circulation desk, no –– The new Darien (Conn.) Library has no circulation desk. Centrally located RFID (radio-frequency identification) terminals allow patrons to self-check books, and an automated material handling system sorts books from the self-return kiosks.
  • Also . . . In June, the Milwaukee (Wis.) Public Library completed a 30,000-square-foot green roof on its Downtown Central Library; and library programs and practices nationwide reflected growing interest in the environment, from Middle Country Public Library’s Nature Explorium in Centereach, N.Y., to Teton County (Wyo.) Library’s Zero Waste Guide, Dubuque (Iowa) Public Library’s environment-themed magic show in November, and the Go Green @ your Illinois Library initiative, launched in October by the Illinois Library Association to develop a group of librarians committed to environmental awareness.


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