Among the several institutions that have undergone structural transformations in Palo Alto, the Downtown Library Branch was not one to forget. The $3.2 million renovation project, which took 14 months to complete, was launched after the approval of Measure N, a $76 million contract for extensive renovations to the Downtown, Main and Mitchell Park library branches.
With Mayor Sid Espinosa, city officials and community members in attendance Saturday, downtown library employees celebrated the reopening of the branch with live entertainment and refreshments.
The long-awaited reopening drew a large crowd eager to witness the new features added to the library, which include a group study room, a multipurpose community room and a kids place, in addition to improved infrastructure, technology and environmentally friendly components.
The additional space will allow for more activities to be held at the library, according to Assistant Library Director Cornelia van Aken.
“We have spaces for programs like Magic Mike, we have room for more selection and we have room for more collections in the building now," van Aken said. “There are many more services and resources.”
The designated kids section, an amenity unique to the downtown library branch, provides an area for group storytimes as well as individual learning opportunities at the AWE Early Literacy Learning computer station for younger readers.
“There are new spaces that have been created," Library Director Monique le Conge said. “The children’s room, especially, which was a special project with the Friends of the Palo Alto Library, is a flexible space. There was not a large children’s space here before.”
Along with fostering children’s curiosities, the modern resources will appeal to a broader range of library-users who can access the branch’s free wireless connectivity or work with the large, touch-screen smart boards available in the study rooms.
“Before this was remodeled, children’s story time was token, and the attendance was a joke,” Friends of the Palo Alto Library President Jim Schmidt said. “I think that the services of this library are going to be much more used by the downtown population, both the residential population and the business population, than was the case with the original library.”
Despite technological advancements in literature, such as e-books and online material, the presence of libraries in communities is growing throughout the nation as individuals increasingly spend time at their local branches, according to Schmidt.
“Libraries are important social institutions,” Schmidt said. “People use them both for individual study and for group activities and to talk to each other. In this economy, what we see across the country is that more and more people are using public libraries, and the circulation in public libraries is going up for the last 10 years.”
Although a public facility, the downtown library can create a comfortable environment as familiar as home for some users.
“I think that every library will reflect the neighborhood where it's located. Libraries are the neighborhood’s living room, a place where you can come and relax, learn, have conversations with people,” le Conge said.
“I really want it to be a hub for whatever the community needs, whether it’s a place to do homework, a place for a community group to share information, an opportunity for children to experience story time and new activities, or whatever it is that families and individuals can do together.”
Mitchell Park Branch Librarian Karen Richins described the renovation project as an overall benefit for the community.
“Definite positive impact,” she said.