Walk into any of the newly rebuilt neighborhood libraries included in the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s $130 million building program and one cannot help but notice the light, the open space and the welcoming feeling created within it.
The new buildings are modern yet comfortable; imposing yet intimate.
“Think of these libraries as community centers of the 21st century — a place for people who love books with … more meeting spaces, more collaborative spaces and more flexibly designed spaces,” said library spokesman Ben Zenitsky.
Gone are the stacks and the idea of the library as a vault for books.
Book shelves no longer reach the ceilings, contributing to the overall feeling of wide, open space.
“Every detail is gone over with a fine-tooth comb,” Zenitsky said. “We have staff who are thinking about the exact textures and colors and placement of all elements.
“Everything is by design.”
The new and renovated buildings, including the main library downtown, were designed as sustainable, aspirational works of architecture. To describe them as bold is almost an understatement.
“We want them to be beacons for the neighborhood,” Zenitsky said.
The building program includes nine regional or neighborhood libraries, plus the main library.
The new iterations of these facilities have come online in a staggered fashion since the reopening of the Driving Park library July 12, 2014.
Branches to open since are Whitehall, Parsons, Main Library, Northern Lights and Shepard.
Construction on the Victorian Village-Short North area branch — Northside — broke ground March and is expected to be completed later this year.
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Dublin branch was released just last week and planning is ongoing for the Martin Luther King Branch in the city’s Near East neighborhood and the Hilliard branch.
According to library officials, the hope his to have all 10 projects wrapped up by 2020.
Zenitsky said the majority of the project is funded by the sale of public library fund notes, approved by voters’ passage of the 2010 levy.
The low-interest, 25-year bonds first were sold in 2012.
An additional $21.5 million is being raised through a combination of public and private donations through the Columbus Metropolitan Library Foundation, he said.
The final $8.5 million is resultant of operational savings from previous years.
Zenitsky credits library CEO Patrick Losinski with the vision for the massive building program.
“He said that the community reinvested in the library (with passage of the levy) and so the library is reinvesting in the community,” Zenitsky paraphrased. “And that’s what we’re seeing with these new buildings.”
The relevancy of each of these branches is important to the library’s mission and main priority — the Young Minds Strategy, which readies central Ohio kids for Kindergarten, prepares them to pass the third-grade reading proficiency test and follows through with equipping teens the skills necessary to graduate from high school.
Ask Zenitsky what the library does best and there is no hesitation.
“Impacting early literacy, getting children ready for kindergarten and making sure that parents have the skills to be their children’s first teacher,” he said. “We’re busy. We have a lot going on here.”
In addition to the building program, the library has been able to increased accessibility in a couple of other ways — doing away with overdue fines and expansion of Sunday hours.
“Our board of trustees has challenged us to find ways to make it easier for our customers to get more materials in their hands and we found that overdue fines continue to be a hindrance to customers,” Zenitsky said. “We’ve seen that the people who rely most on the library are the most impacted by overdue fines and that was a real problem.”
He qualified by saying it’s in everybody’s interest that library materials are returned, but not to the exclusion of customers.
“After a certain amount of time with an overdue item, your card will be prevented from checking out more physical materials,” he explained. “This is something we hope will enable more customers to enjoy our materials without fear of overdue fines.”
As for the expansion of hours, Zenitsky said the new hours gradually became the norm.
“We have many regional branches that serve a larger population and those libraries have been open on Sundays, he said. “We also have smaller neighborhood branches that typically were not open Sundays, but as we’ve opened a number of these brand new buildings, we’ve implemented Sunday hours.”
Expectation is that the library will continue its focus on the building project and refreshing those not included in the program.
Otherwise, “we’ll be keeping up with the demand, listening to customers and continuing to watch the rise in trends for e-books and digital materials — making sure that we’re ahead of these trends,” he said.