The growth of cities and resurgence of downtowns presents opportunities and challenges to libraries. While sticking to their core principles of equity and access, urban libraries embrace those opportunities, integrating facilities, programs and services into the pulse of city life, while working within constraints of budgets and space. Across the country, libraries in cities of all sizes serve the critical functions of urban living rooms and civic anchors.
After decades during which an underutilized shopping mall failed to attract people to the city’s center, civic leaders in Rockville, Maryland, planned a redesign of their downtown. Public and commercial buildings are situated around plazas and accessed by intentionally slowed traffic. Montgomery County’s flagship library at Rockville Town Square is the anchor for the redevelopment and is at the head of the plaza. Its 7-day a week schedule and breadth of programs for all ages reflect the city’s enthusiasm for the revitalized space and the community growing around it.
For many years, downtown Salt Lake City was bustling during the day but quiet at night and on weekends. That has changed and the City Library is at the center of the action. With its soaring Urban Room, the unique architecture of the library features locally owned and operated shops on the first floor of the building with the library nestled above the hum of commercial traffic. The exterior of the building beckons visitors with a walkable wall and rooftop garden, linking it to the greenspace of Library Square, Salt Lake City’s central plaza which is also home to City Hall, restaurants, residential buildings and office space.
Even libraries in already flourishing urban centers have to reconsider how they deliver and sustain services. Brooklyn Public Library did just that with the Brooklyn Heights Project, the redesign of a physical building in need of major repairs and a community in need of a slightly different layout. The new library will be part of a multi-use building that includes residential units; and the proceeds of that development will be used for infrastructure and repair needs throughout the Brooklyn Library system. In addition, the new space will feature more meeting and gathering spaces, providing opportunities for residents to gather, exchange, and engage.
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