SIDNEY — The results of the Libraries Build Strong Communities campaign to expand and renovate the Amos Memorial Public Library will be on display for the public at a grand opening on Wednesday, Aug. 9, from 5 to 8 p.m. At that time, the Shelby County Libraries will offer refreshments and tours at the North Street location, where the last celebration after construction was in 1958.
According to a release from the Libraries Build Strong Communities board, this upgrade is the manifestation of the future direction of libraries. Very often, the question of the need for libraries arises. Aren’t libraries going away? And the answer is that libraries are changing, as they always have. Libraries were in existence before the printing press and continued through the audio/visual age and the computer revolution. How libraries function has again shifted. That shift is evidenced by the reduction in space for materials and the increase in space for community use, making this new library an example of another transformative moment in the history of libraries.
When the original building opened, the expectation was that the library would serve Sidney for 30 years, but it wasn’t until 2005 that a needs assessment was done. A feasibility study followed in 2007, but then came the financial meltdown of 2008, and progress was stalled. The library trustees regrouped in 2012 after reductions in staffing had enabled a more reasonable project size, and a private fundraising campaign, rather than a tax levy campaign, began.
After a request for proposals was put out to architects, krM Architecture, a leader in library design, was selected to develop plans for the project. Construction began in the spring of 2016 under the supervision of the general contractor, Ferguson Construction Company. Other contractors were Regal Plumbing & Heating Company for plumbing and HVAC and Area Energy & Electric for electrical. Low Voltage Solutions handled security and AV installation.
At a cost of $4.85 million, an additional 11,400 square feet of space is now connected to 19,400 square feet of the renovated structure. The costs include construction, renovation, and furniture to outfit the entire building.
The Amos Memorial Public Library is now a trendsetter for Ohio libraries. It boasts unique design features, associated with modern uses of public spaces. Visitors will immediately notice the abundance of natural light and the softening of hard shelving and metallic surfaces with liberal use of wood and comfortable seating throughout.
The gathering stairs are a central feature of the new addition, and the boat, created by millwork, is already a hit in the children’s department.
Not as breathtaking, but a necessity nevertheless, is the west parking lot on library property. From there, patrons can access the west doors easily, although the North Street doors remain as the main entrance.
The persistent need for space had become an overriding issue for the library. It was not able to provide a closed meeting room for consultations and testing. Programming for different age groups was minimized because of the competition for limited space. Wi-Fi and desktop computers were available, but there was no ability to use the technology for meetings. Computer space wasn’t relevant.
The expanded use of technology will be in variety, though, as well as in volume. Space exists now for comfortable personal use. Individuals have tech centers, rather than tables, booths and charging stations, rather than rigid chairs. Patrons may bring their own devices and use them on the many counters located throughout the building. The children’s area offers iPads and Kindles. Televisions for youth can be used for story time and interactive applications. A large-screen television is available for class or group presentations on the gathering stairs. Overall, the technology integrated into the fundamental structure and purpose of the library is available in its many forms for the demands of an informed population and a connected community.
Library visitors who remember when the art gallery was on the main floor will see displays there once again. The gallery is being relocated from the basement and centered where people will be able to see creative art exhibits, including showcases for 3-D pieces. Local artists will be encouraged to apply through an established process for the use of the space. Because construction disrupted the juried Ohio Watercolor Show the past couple of years, the exhibit bypassed the library, but with the completion of the building, the show will return in the fall.
Also on the main floor and located under the mezzanine is the genealogy and local history room. Although no changes are in evidence here, the need for digital microfilm readers is more urgent, but the funds for these machines were not part of the capital campaign.
The mezzanine no longer houses stacks of nonfiction books. This upper floor has been converted to offices, small study rooms for two to eight people, and a conference room for groups of 12 to 15. These rooms may be reserved for services such as tutoring or consultations, home signings, tax preparation, or free legal help — services already provided by the library but without space for privacy.
The nonfiction book collection was moved to the second floor of the new addition and joins fiction, magazines, and newspapers all on the same building level. Booths and comfortable seating are conveniently interspersed throughout the adult collection there, and the gathering stairs are close by to sit and relax in comfortable seating with a broad window view at the top.
At the bottom of the gathering stairs, the first floor of the new addition is the children’s area and the early literacy room. Teens have a separate area behind and under the gathering stairs. It’s often regarded as the “coolest spot in the library” because it’s a fun hangout with a coffee-house vibe. Televisions, computers, and young adult collections are all in one place out of the main traffic areas of the library.
The early literacy room serves children from 0-5 years of age along with their caregivers who must check in with the staff before using the room. This room faces Miami Avenue and contains age-appropriate materials and learning activities to spark interest in reading and exploring.
The children’s area is greatly expanded from the cramped basement confines of recent years. Here children have a comfortable place for stories, interactive media, and crafting. A story time room is used for working at tables, as well as for the traditional oral reading to small groups.
Since the children’s area has been moved up from the basement, that area now houses a maker-space and STEM lab. This is an instructional room and was one of the last places to be completed during the construction phase. The library is already collaborating with local companies to have programming for all ages. A 3-D printer, robotics kits, Lego kits, and sewing machines are among the supplies that businesses are encouraged to use for training or presentations.
The largest area for presentations and meetings, though, is the community room on the west side of the new addition, just inside from the parking lot. In early September this room will be open for reservations for a variety of uses for business, non-profit, community, and service club meetings and may be used during hours the library is closed. Interested groups may call the library and will be matched with the space that best meets the requested use. The number of people that can be accommodated in this room depends on the set-up. Eight round tables and up to four rectangular tables are available, but with chairs only, the room can be filled to the maximum 140. A small kitchenette with counter space and a sink at the back of the room may be used for light refreshments that can be brought in or catered. A 15-foot screen with projector and podium can be used for presentations and provide seamless interface from source to screen, offering flexibility to groups and presenters that the library did not have previously.
So, instead of slipping quietly into history, the Amos Memorial Public Library has made the commitment to advance confidently into the future of Sidney and Shelby County. The many gifts, both monetary and in-kind, by private contributors ensure that the Shelby County Libraries will endure, providing space to explore and share informational and leisure pursuits for generations to come.