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The Columbus Metropolitan Library, one of the most vibrant library systems in the country and past winner of the “National Library of the Year” award, has a newly refurbished Main Library building that re-opened in June 2016. The comprehensive renovation aimed at forging alliances with the community through programs and spaces, connecting to an adjacent park and new front lawn and building a world-class children’s area. The new Main Library has visual transparency that beckons patrons to enter the library and provides views to the surrounding park space and city, resulting in a fresh new experience of Carnegie’s architectural treasure and of the work of the local artist Aminah Robinson. Both the print and digital collections are “put on display” in the library, making them more accessible to patrons and staff alike and putting the architecture in the service of the library’s mission. It is a reborn library for the internet age.
With a motto of “Creating Libraries that Change Lives,” the CML is in the midst of building or dramatic refurbishment of seven urban and two suburban libraries. These buildings in various architectural styles are located in some of the highest-need communities in greater Columbus, and the CML is committed to literacy and learning outreach into these neighborhoods. The focus on user experience informs everything from the building layouts to staffing and special events.
A previous addition to the Main Library was built in the early 1990s that focused on housing collections to the exclusion of the public experience, with opaque walls and heavily tinted windows that separated it from its surroundings. It shifted the role of the original 1901 Carnegie library building as the formal entrance, and the function of the grand front lawn on South Grant Avenue. The recent renovation replaced the stone-clad walls with glass curtain walls, creating a physical connection through the library from west to east that opens on to Topiary Park—the result is a library in a park. On the opposite side, the main entrance along South Grant Avenue is returned to its previous prominence engaging the expansive front lawn.
The Children’s Area is in the same location as before, but now it is put on full display, visible from the atrium as a means of drawing parents and children in. New meeting rooms, remodeled auditorium and event space for up to 800 respond to the community’s desire to have multiple places to meet and engage. Teens and genealogy buffs are accorded their own dedicated spaces, and a Café and Friends’ Store round out the public-oriented spaces in the library.
The revitalized Main Library accomplished all of the owner’s aspirations, and then some. It builds connection to community, both literally and conceptually, through programs and transparent spaces; connects on one side to Topiary Park and on the other to the front lawn; and yields inviting children’s, teens’ and genealogy areas, each designed spur curiosity in all age groups. But it has had wide-ranging effects and benefits, becoming a catalyst for neighborhood growth and vibrancy and renewing the experience of the elegant Beaux-Arts 1901 design while being open and accessible to all.