Recently, a toy manufacturer introduced a librarian action figure, a staid figure complete with glasses, conservative business suit, and “shushing action.” This tongue-in-cheek figurine, based on a real-life librarian, may be the typical image of a no-nonsense disciplinarian. Libraries, on the other hand, are changing drastically to attract the public, becoming lively, fun-filled facilities.
With over 30 years of experience in library serv-ice, Annie Busch, executive director, Springfield-Greene County Library, Springfield, MO, has seen how libraries have adapted to new technologies and changing needs. Of the eight library facilities under the Springfield-Greene District, the headquarters building, known as the Library Center, is the largest at 83,000 square feet and houses all of the libraries’ administrative and support services.
On a Literary Path
At the central library headquarters, there is a tile entryway with a meandering band of brass letters listing popular authors through the ages. Children love to walk along the brass band, learning and having fun at the same time.
Built in 2001, this building houses major collections of print and electronic resources. These include special collections, such as business, automotive, and local history and genealogy; as well as fully equipped computer labs, private study rooms, and state-of-the-art reference technology. In addition, the Library Center includes other amenities characteristic of larger urban libraries, such as a 185-seat auditorium, a glass-enclosed recreational reading room, a story-hour room, an outdoor story garden, a 134-seat public meeting room, and five smaller meeting rooms. Patrons can also take advantage of the Friends of the Library-sponsored gift shop and a café.
After the completion of the tremendously successful central library facility on the south side of town, the idea for the Library Station for the north side was born. A new library was needed to meet the population growth in north Springfield. “The people on the north side needed and deserved something, and expectations were high because of the south-side facility,” recalls Busch.
“It was a struggle to see how we [could] do better than we did here,” says Busch. The north side of Springfield has a strong history related to the transportation industry. This region was the headquarters of the Frisco Railroad, and many older families in the region have connections to the train company. A nearby train museum displays the region’s rich rail history. This area also features an airline company, the Butterfield Overland Stage, the Campbell 66 trucking firm, and the famous Route 66.
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles
Originally, the Library Station building was a grocery store with severe flooring problems, including rough, uneven subfloors; old floor boxes; and makeshift patches. Adding to the flooring woes, a large structural crack bisected the main lobby floor. “To me, the big crack looked like the Grand Canyon!” says Larry Vanrhein, vice president at flooring contractor Wm. J. Zickel Co. Commercial Flooring, Springfield, MO. A StarNet Commercial Flooring Cooperative member, Wm. J. Zickel Co. prepared the building’s flooring and repaired the damage with a special filler and crack isolation.
Many hours went into leveling and repairing the flooring to prepare the floor for the hard-surface installation. “A lot of the credit goes to my installers who were determined to get it right,” says Vanrhein. Adds Jim Stufflebeam, vice president/senior designer, Sapp Design Associates, Springfield, MO, “They really went the extra mile.” StarNet Commercial Flooring Cooperative, a U.S. network of flooring contractors, strives for a high degree of professionalism and excellence among its members.
“The director has a strong sense of having the patrons see the library district using their monies wisely,” explains Stufflebeam. The success of the Library Station project can be attributed to the owner, designer, and the installer all being on the same page regarding the design of this library.
Built in 2003, the Library Station project was on a very tight schedule of seven months, and on a limited budget. “The director wanted to achieve a lot without spending a whole lot,” says Stufflebeam. After much consideration to the budget and the facility’s challenges, the building planners chose Armstrong World Industries’ Marmorette Linoleum for its ease of maintenance, durability, range of colors, and ease in cutting and designing the floor pattern. Through a combination of product selection and installation, the entire renovation was $55 per square foot.
The library district wanted the Library Station project to reflect the varied transportation elements of Springfield and bring a quality library experience to the residents. An old 1950s postcard with a map of Route 66 was the inspiration for the dramatic floor motif in the lobby entrance. The Library Station’s main lobby flooring is now a map of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. This library incorporates the theme of trains, planes, and automobiles.
“It was important that we made this our second destination facility,” says Busch. “We wanted to draw people who weren’t just normal library users; we wanted to draw from a wider spectrum.” The Library Station’s inviting and playful design has increased usage dramatically compared to the previous branch on the site.
The children’s department of the Library Station has a prominent train theme featuring a large fiberglass train that children can play on and explore. In the story-hour room, a train engine literally comes out of the wall surrounded by a mural of an outdoor scene of trees and animals. The Library Station also features train tracks and road motifs in the flooring made from rubber tiles that snake through the building.
Playfully, the road motif flooring goes through the children’s section to the main part of the library and into the young adults’ section. A model train transverses along the ceiling in the children’s section. Carrying the theme further, the circulation checkout desks resemble old-fashioned train station ticket windows.
Photos from a book on the history of Route 66 by a local author have been incorporated into the building’s lobby to further tie in the Library Station’s connection to Springfield’s history. The Route 66 flooring in the main lobby also lists the major cities that the route goes through – with Springfield, MO, in a central location – and has become a popular attraction for visitors, both young and old. “It is a great way to bring people into the building,” says Busch. “Both buildings have lots of places for people to come and look and learn.”
Residents have donated transportation memorabilia and the library district has been able to digitize some of that material for future generations. With photos of train conductors and old Harleys, the library system has also collaborated with the nearby transportation museum to display prints of the museum’s images. “You can literally go through the building and find something new every time,” says Busch. The libraries are an exciting place to learn.
At the Library Station, a local photographer’s photos of transportation-related images are interspersed with other contemporary and historical images into two large photo montages. Historical pictures of local businesses that once lined Route 66 now line the walls of the library, drawing visitors down memory lane.
Hawthorne, Dickinson, and a Decaf Cappuccino
Right off of I-44, a major route from the east to the west, the Library Station receives many non-local visitors and serves as an educational tool for outsiders. Wireless connectivity and high-speed Internet access have also bolstered visitor usage of the library, as well as increased use by locals.
“Attendance has more than doubled. We have been averaging 700 new library cards a month,” says Busch. With 40,000 visits each month, the library administrators are thrilled that the Library Station is able to reach so many new people. Not to be outdone, the Library Center now boasts 50,000 visitors per month. In addition to checking out books, library patrons at both facilities are visiting with friends, having lunch, and scheduling meetings. Adds Busch, “The library has become a community gathering place.”
Circulation at the Library Station has doubled. Ten different meeting rooms on-site handle the more than 2,000 participants. Programming has also increased – especially for children and young adults.
Pre-teens and teenagers are typically two of the hardest demographic groups to attract. At the Library Station and the Library Center, however, young adults are visiting more and more. These library facilities offer a safe and comfortable haven, welcoming young people to play games, meet friends over snacks, and even go on a date.
“The one thing people wanted was food,” says Busch. Focus groups recommended food service for the new libraries. The Library Center has a very popular café area and the Library Station leases space to Panera Bread, an upscale sandwich and coffee retail chain. This success has encouraged the library administrators to be willing to take chances and to keep things new.
Keeping up with new technologies and new formats in materials is now the library system’s top priority. “We are the place where you learn about new technology,” says Busch. Over 50 visitors a day bring in their own laptops to take advantage of the high-speed Internet access. And speaking of high speed, books on CD are the fastest-growing area of the district’s collection.
“One of our challenges is doing everything,” notes Busch. From broken toy train whistles to computer viruses, maintenance is definitely more challenging in these updated facilities. The district strives to keep up with its new challenges in order to provide the best environment for its patrons.
Calling All Cars
Both libraries also offer drive-up windows for the pick-up and drop- off of library materials. The drive-up windows are open early in the morning so that commuters can pick up reserved materials. “This is handy for parents with young children, people with mobility issues, and all of us who are just in a hurry,” explains Busch.
In library design, the trend has been toward library facilities having a theme park flavor. “Libraries have been looking for ways to make their spaces more exciting and to appeal to non-traditional users,” says Busch. Once the system decided on the planes, trains, and automobiles theme, Busch chose architects and artisans with experience in casino and theater design that understood how to inject interest into facilities.
“The ultimate is for us to be where you want us when you need us, getting a book to you at home, at the office,” says Busch. In the future, Busch believes libraries will move more toward deliveries of library materials. In fact, on a limited basis, the library system has already experimented with a delivery system.
“The world had changed. When I first started, we had card catalogues,” says Busch. From typewritten index cards to IBM punch cards to wireless networks, technology has changed quickly and libraries have undergone a dramatic revolution to keep pace with changing technologies and fast-paced lifestyles.
Few pleasures compare to the simple joy of reading a good book. Along with preserving that longtime pleasure, libraries are striving to stay vital and to foster a new generation of readers. So, while the traditional image of librarians may live on, put aside your old expectations of stuffy, boring facilities with more rules than books. The Library Center and the Library Station are fresh incarnations offering an unexpected dose of fun.
Regina Raiford Babcock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.