Reused Libraries Rejuvenate Communities

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By Greg Landgraf

If the teen area at the new Scotts Valley branch of Santa Cruz Public Libraries in California reminds you of the roller rink of your youth, there’s a good reason. Instead of constructing a new facility, the city purchased an old one—a former roller rink—and renovated it. The teen section was constructed as an homage to the building’s previous use, but it’s functional, too. Booth seating gives space for students to collaborate, steps provide some informal seating for socializing and gaming at a wall-mounted console, and there are even roller rink-inspired cubbies where teens can store their things.

It’s one of several libraries that have opened in the past few years by adapting existing buildings rather than building new. The process often saves money, while giving the library a prime location and boosting community development in the process. The Scotts Valley Library is one anchor for an area that the city is redeveloping into a town center.  “It’s a fantastic location,” said Theresa Landers, director of Santa Cruz Public Libraries, adding that it’s already near a transit hub, community center, senior center, and farmer’s market.

Jackson, New Hampshire, looked to history for its new library: a barn built in 1858 that was part of the town’s first inn. While the inn had been torn down in 1978, a local school had been using the barn for storage. The school had outgrown the barn and would have demolished it if not for the intervention of the Jackson Historical Society, which raised money to have the barn dismantled and put into storage in 2008. At about the same time, the Jackson Public Library was looking to open a new facility. “We had another design with an architect,” said Jackson Public Library Director Susan Dunker-Bendigo. The recession made following through on that design impossible, and led the library into partnership with the historical society.

The barn required only minor adaptations to make it suitable for the library. The original beams and non-uniform window line retain the character of the historic structure. And reusing the building draws goodwill from patrons. “It’s lovely inside. The atmosphere is so welcoming,” Dunker-Bendigo said.

In Pennsylvania, the North Wales Area Library took over an aging coaxial connector and cable assembly factory in a residential area and transformed it for use as its new library. Exterior finishing and landscaping created gardens and a brickwork plaza for public use. “We wanted the neighbors to feel good about the library,” said Library Director Jayne Blackledge. “We built gardens as buffers, and they’ve been really pleased with that.”The building itself largely preserved the factory’s layout: The manufacturing space became the library’s public area, while the administrative area turned into staff offices. The library did enclose the factory’s loading dock, creating community meeting rooms that can be accessed outside of library hours.

The Stephens Central Library in San Angelo, Texas took over the downtown Hemphill-Wells Department Store building. While it had stood vacant for more than twenty years, the store still held a fond space in the hearts of the city’s residents. “Everyone above a certain age knew that building and shopped there,” said Larry Justiss, director of the Tom Green County Library System, of which the Stephens Library is a part.

The department store was one of many businesses to leave downtown in the 1980s. Reoccupying it has a strong symbolic value: With the city investing in downtown, businesses have followed suit to rejuvenate the area. “For many years you’d come through the heart of San Angelo and there wouldn’t be much activity. That has changed,” said Justiss.

Greg Landgraf is associate editor of American Libraries, and blogs at museumbeyond.com. This article includes libraries featured in American Libraries’ annual showcase of new and renovated library facilities.

Photo credits:

Scotts Valley Library. Photo by Technical Imagery Studios.

Jackson Public Library. Photo by Tom Eastman/Conway Daily Sun.

North Wales Area Library. Photo supplied by North Wales Area Library.

Stephens Central Library. Photo by Tom Kessler.

 

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