Howard library turns over new leaf

Renovation: After being closed for more than a year, the refurbished central library will reopen Sunday with $5.4 million worth of improvements.

October 17, 2001|By Larry Carson | By Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

For more than a year, thousands of Howard County residents have been waiting for the central library they love to reopen.

Their patience will be rewarded Sunday when the building on Little Patuxent Parkway where they once checked out 80,000 items a month will be back in business, refurbished, reorganized and filled with light to meet the 21st century.

A $5.4 million, top-to-bottom renovation is finally over, though a brief tour yesterday found workers busy putting on finishing touches.

Nearly every functional part of the building has been redone, from the heating, air-conditioning and electrical systems to the new soundproof children's story room on the first floor. The solid wood second-floor ceiling wasn't touched, but a new lighting scheme makes everything above eye level seem brighter, officials said.

The number of computers has increased to 70 from 29, and the number of periodicals to 500 from 380. And the open space to use them has grown. Two glass-front study rooms will be available for patrons who need a quiet space to work.

Those who buy coffee or other refreshments at the Daily Grind in the entrance will be able to relax with them in the purple stuffed chairs scattered throughout the 48,400-square-foot structure.

"There are a lot of people waiting for it. It's a very exciting time," said Arvell Greenwood, chairman of the library board of trustees.

Library officials expect thousands of eager readers to drop by to check out the improvements, starting at 1 p.m. Sunday.

"They're going to have a little coffee bar. I did like that place," said Jacqueline Cohan, 79, who envisioned the refurbished 20-year-old building on Little Patuxent Parkway while browsing recently at the East Columbia library branch.

"It sounds like they're going to have all the bells and whistles. That will be a draw from all over Columbia," said Valencia Smith, 46, another patron at the East Columbia branch.

Making Howard County's central library more open and light-filled while providing a cafe and more computers was a challenge, architects said.

Donald D. Smith, the Baltimore architect hired to redesign the space, said that despite large second-floor skylights and an open stairway, "the library had a lot of complaints that it was dark [in the book stacks.] That has been changed, he said, with concentric lighting directed up and down, and "the whole space is illuminated."

The big rooftop windowpanes now sandwich sheets of rice paper, which diffuse and soften the light. Unobtrusive electric lighting completes the effect.

Among the many other improvements are new shelves designed to hold paperbacks, audio and visual materials replace bookshelves adapted for those purposes.

A few shelf parts and computers were late arriving, but library Director Valerie J. Gross, and Liz Lancaster, the central library's manager, said everything should be ready by Sunday.

"One of the nicest features is the lobby," Lancaster said, showing off the oval, sculpted ceiling adorned with a huge inverted, rounded light.

Visitors waiting for the library's inner doors to open can enter the lobby to buy coffee and walk out the back to a small outdoor courtyard behind the lobby.

The aroma of things percolating is supposed to make the entryway more inviting, Lancaster said.

More than the ambience has been improved, she said.

Smith's firm was hired to increase the building's capacity for materials "and to make it more friendly and inviting to the public," he said. About 2,200 square feet of public space has been added by eliminating interior rooms, combining information desks and moving a glass wall out six feet.

The closing of the central library was keenly felt, especially at the East Columbia library, 2 1/2 miles away, where manager Kelly Simabukuro said circulation was up 69 percent last year.

The county's original plan was to rent space in another building and temporarily move the central library while the work progressed. But no space nearby could be found, so the decision was made to close the branch and move the materials to a county warehouse, where they would be available within 24 hours to fill requests made at other branches.

Despite the additional load at the nearest branch, in East Columbia, lines moved quickly there and library users had few complaints.

Now, to the accompaniment of high school bands, Clifford the Big Red Dog and other entertainment, the central library will return.

On Sunday, the library will also be host to a reading and book signing by author Tim Junkin. During the week, at coffee break talks at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., librarians will offer reading suggestions. A play program for children younger than age 2 and their parents is scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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