East Lake Library reopens Saturday, March 3

The remodeled East lake Library, with its new glass facade and bright interior, awaits the arrival of patrons on March 3.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

Renovated facility features new amenities and services in a bright, open space

NORTH LONGFELLOW—When you walk into the newly expanded East Lake Library, one of the first things you will notice is how light and open it feels. Two-story windows overlooking East Lake bring the streetscape and sunlight inside.

After a 22-month closure and a $4.47 million outlay, the library is set to reopen March 3 at 1 p.m. with more books, more computers and a new approach to customer service.

The library will be open 40 hours a week — the same total hours as before — on Tuesday and Thursday, noon–8 p.m.; and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.–6 p.m. The library will have nine full-time-equivalent staff, a slight increase. It will keep the same staff day to day; people will not rotate from library to library.

Library Board member and Seward resident Sheldon Mains calls the overhauled library “a centerpiece on Lake Street,” but the reopening is bittersweet, too. Facing revenue shortfalls, the board recently voted to close three libraries — Southeast, Roosevelt, and Webber Park — to have enough money to reopen the East Lake and North Regional libraries. “There was no other way to do it,” Mains said.

Tonya DePriest, area manager and former East Lake librarian, gave The Bridge a tour of the new space as carpenters put the finishing touches on the facility.

Former patrons will remember how the old library entrance sat back from East Lake. Now the front door opens right off the street. Enter and turn right and you are in the new Business and Career Center, recommended by a neighborhood advisory team.

The center has computers, a conference table and a book collection ranging from business management to résumé writing. Patrons can bring their laptops and use the Wi-Fi internet access. A Star Tribune Job View kiosk will allow people to search and apply for jobs on the spot, and business and job search experts will make scheduled visits to answer patrons’ questions, said DePriest.

The library also has a new back entrance from the parking lot. Inside the door, a low arc wall defines the new children’s area, cushioned with red carpet tiles. Kid-level bookshelves circle most of the space. A long purple table has child-friendly computers, and nearby are adult computers for the parents. A comfortable chair at the far end of the room is the focal point of the new story-telling area. “We have great acoustics,” DePriest said. “You don’t have to shout.”

The new library should be a boon to teens, too. Though circulation numbers indicated that teens checked out a lot of books before the library closed, DePriest said librarians seldom saw them, probably because they didn’t have their own area. Now a low arc wall and green linoleum floor defines the teen area along the library’s east side. The teen collection has expanded by 50 percent to 3,000 volumes and has its own computer bank. Homework Helper tutors will assist students after school Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday afternoons. The library plans to have teen book clubs in English and Spanish.

The adult area will include new custom-built cases to prominently display newly released popular fiction and nonfiction books. Other amenities include self-check-out machines, a community bulletin board and a flat-screen TV monitor listing the library’s daily events.

The library has an expanded world language collection: 18 shelves of books in foreign languages with an emphasis on Spanish, said DePriest. Spanish- and Somali-speaking liaisons will come to the library several times a week to help patrons. They also will do community outreach to encourage greater library use.

Changes are in the works in customer service, too. Instead of sitting behind an information desk, library staff will be posted in different areas around the library, including a greeter in the entryway. “We will find you,” said DePriest.

Gone is the old library’s large meeting room, which took up a lot of space but was only used 30 percent of the time, said DePriest. The library now has a scaled-back 24-person meeting room.

The Library Board spent approximately $500,000 more on the project than initially budgeted, mostly because it got grants for more extras, like the $160,000 McKnight technology grant and $75,000 from the city for public art.

Katie Hatt, executive director of the Longfellow Community Council, said her neighborhood gave $50,000 of its Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) money to cover a budget shortfall. Though unrelated to the NRP grant, Hatt said the library will have a dedicated space to showcase photos, articles and books about Longfellow history.

“It looks to be an outstanding facility,” Hatt said. “To have the library back … people can’t wait.”

last revised: July 25, 2007