November 19, 2017

(Re) Open Concept | Library by Design 2016

TRANSPARENTLY TRANSFORMED The Columbus Metropolitan Library’s ambitious renovation of its main facility opened up the spaces to one another and to the outside. (Clockwise from lower l.): The teen/YA media area sees heavy use; a formerly blank wall becomes an expanse of glass; the original Carnegie serves as a grand centerpiece; circular shelving defines story time space in the center of the children’s room

TRANSPARENTLY TRANSFORMED The Columbus Metropolitan Library’s ambitious renovation of its main facility opened up the spaces to one another and to the outside. (Clockwise from lower l.): The teen/YA media area sees heavy use; a formerly blank wall becomes an expanse of glass; the original Carnegie serves as a grand centerpiece; circular shelving defines story time space in the center of the children’s room

 

The story of the Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML), OH, main library renovation is a familiar one these days: indeed, it has become practically archetypal. A gorgeous old Carnegie, opened in 1907, had long since been outgrown. Over the century and with four additions, it had been married to expansions—the most recent bringing the library to more than 250,000 square feet. Done in 1991, at the height of the trend of stack-centric libraries designed to maximize collections, this latest reformation included virtually no windows, lest the books be damaged by sunlight.

Now, a people-first renovation has gently polished the Carnegie and dramatically opened up the addition, thinning the (still ample) collection to focus on space for community in the form of events, meetings, coworking, and simply relaxing and reading—perhaps with a cup of coffee from the new Carnegie Café.

“We have transformed a library focused on collections into one focused on connections,” says CML CEO Patrick Losinski. “While books remain at the center of every­thing we do, this library represents a civic hub for our community.” (For consistently achieving its goals, CML was named the 2010 LJ Library of the Year.)

Letting in the light

Formerly blank walls have been transformed into banks of windows that look out onto a parking lot–turned–­outdoor reading area and beyond, into Topiary Park, one of the city’s main attractions. A double-height reading room facing the striking park view is filled with 100 percent mobile furnishings, so the library can clear the decks, literally, for events hosting up to 800 people.

Connecting to the park was one of the library’s main stated goals when the project began, architect David Zenk told LJ when we toured the building during the recent International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) conference, held in Columbus this August and hosted in part by CML. Gund Partnership, Zenk’s firm, which worked on the renovation together with local company Schooley Caldwell Associates, interpreted the goal liberally, as a mandate to connect the library spaces not only to the park but to one another and the city as a whole. In the former library, Zenk’s colleague architect Christine Verbitzki tells LJ, all of the departments were individually strong, but moving among them required a series of confusing right angle turns that disoriented the user and made it hard to tell how they related. “Everything was compartmentalized,” says Verbitzki.

Now, an extended open atrium makes it easy to see at a glance how the spaces fit together. As a result, ­Verbitzki says, signs are not needed for wayfinding because navigating the space is intuitive. In addition, she says, the design encourages patrons to go to more than just one place within the library. Each spot is designed to connect to multiple people, such as adults accompanying kids into the children’s area and vice versa.

Condensing staff offices into two spaces on higher floors—one for those working with patrons and the other behind the scenes—also allows more access to windows and the balcony that looks out onto the sunlit atrium. The importance of this is easily seen in the patterns patrons make in their use and movement of the flexible furnishings—seats by the windows and the glassed-in balcony fill first and empty last; chairs have a tendency to migrate toward one or the other.

ARTFUL TOUCHES Artwork carries messages throughout the building (l.–r.): A mural near the Carnegie Café; work by local artist April Sunami is made from CML’s weeded books; touch screens bring the library’s local history images to patrons’ fingertips

ARTFUL TOUCHES Artwork carries messages throughout the building (l.–r.): A mural near the Carnegie Café; work by local artist April Sunami is made from CML’s weeded books; touch screens bring
the library’s local history images to patrons’ fingertips

Connecting past, present, places

Adding new pathways into the original Carnegie through what were once windows on the second floor, plus much-improved sight lines, have led patrons to tell Zenk that they’re glad the two buildings are now connected—even though, in fact, they always were, on the ground floor.

As patrons move from the Carnegie into the newer space, a playful children’s room to the right is framed by multiple entryways at varying heights; inside, a semi­enclosed story time area claims the center of the room, no longer hidden from view. Instead, privacy is reserved for a dedicated homework help space for older kids, decorated with college-focused messaging. Upstairs, a separate teen/YouMedia zone is the result of collaboration between the library and multiple other local institutions. Liberal use of glass walls for delineating meeting rooms and the kids’ area helps noise control while allowing patrons to see at a glance where they’re going and what exciting things are happening inside.

Deadlines and dollars

The ambitious renovation’s budget was about $35 million out of the library’s overall $130 million aspirational building program (for renovations or rebuilds of ten of its 23 locations, including the main)—quite a change from the $200,000 it cost to build the Carnegie in the first place. Of the larger total, $21.5 million was raised from private donations. In addition to bringing the project in on budget, the architects had the pressure of bringing it in on time—in under three years—to coincide with the IFLA conference, something that Zenk felt lent considerable excitement to the proceedings. The result certainly justified any added rush: in addition to drawing an estimated 2,000 visitors on opening day, the library saw a steady stream of admiring librarians who came to Columbus from all over the world for the meeting, even between scheduled tours.

The art of the unexpected

As well, the building’s artwork expresses the library mission. A mural custom painted for the former staircase is front and center in the new open atrium. Touch screens bring the library’s digital local history collections into the physical space, as well as allowing self-service on everything from wayfinding to readers’ advisory.

Upstairs in the Carnegie, a gallery hosts pieces by local artists, for sale, that were created from weeded books from CML collections. A mural next to the café provides fun facts about Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919), while one facing the skyline answers the implicit reference question of what patrons are looking at. These touches, Zenk says, were added by CML chief customer experience officer Alison Circle, a 2011 LJ Mover & Shaker, whom he says taught him a lot about branding in the process. “Our Customer Experience goal is to surprise and delight our customers,” says Circle. “Thus, we thought deeply to punch up areas with unexpected detail and humor. We want customers to walk out thinking, ‘They thought of ­everything!’ ”

This article was published in Library Journal's September 15, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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