Dig Baton Rouge

Library turns the page

The new version of the Main Library on Goodwood is open to the public and better than ever.

While the shiny new building is entering its final stages of construction, the old Goodwood library is set to become a parking lot. Compared to the old building less than 100 feet away, the new facility is twice the size and light years ahead in terms of technology.

Assistant Library Director Mary Stein gave DIG a tour of the state-of-the-art facility, which has been designed to last for decades, and keep up with technological advances.

“At the old library, our staff didn’t get email until 2005. There are no wires in that building,” Stein said.

All the wiring in the new building has been installed above ground, for easy modifications and additions. The light and airy space of the first and second floors ensures that the library has the space it needs to grow internally for years to come. Besides being built for longevity, the building was also designed to be environmentally responsible. According to Stein, having a green design for the building was a priority.

“We made a conscious decision to build sustainably. For our other buildings we’ve made this decision also. All of our buildings were built as smartly as we could during the time they were built. For this building, we formalized this process by going through Leadership in Energy Efficient Design certification. We expect gold for the design of this building.”

The huge vault of the second and third floors reach up to angled ceilings that drain rain water into cisterns. That excess water is used for a rooftop garde,n planted with several species of agave. And everywhere in the building are massive windows that let in the light of the sun, cutting down on the building’s electricity use. Also, on a less utilitarian note, visitors will notice a large ornamental cascading divider adjacent to the staircase, which is made from recycled materials.

When you think “library,” you likely also think “books.” Lately libraries have been including technology into the services they provide and modern facilities resemble Internet cafés more than libraries. Stein hopes that this library pushes the practice of community even farther, beyond the technology. Located in the center of Independence Park, the library aims to merge with the existing theatre, botanical gardens, soccer fields, ball diamonds, trails and playgrounds.

“The idea is not to have the library be an island in the park, but to have the library be a part of the park. We want it to have that inside/outside feel, where people inside want to go outside and people outside want to come in. We want them to experience the whole park. We’re going to help them stock that gardening center with wonderful how-to books. When the World Cup is going on and the soccer players are out there, we want to be out there as well. I want the moms who are in between games to come on over and spend some time on the terrace or in the cafe, or the quiet room.”

And while it will function as a culture and community center, the library has no intention of abandoning its traditional role of being a resource for books and research.

“We have over half a million books, but we’re trying to push ourselves beyond having just books. Of course we still have the books, but information – no matter what its form – is what we want to provide.”

The library’s archives, once they’re up and running, will provide information from obituaries, documents and newspaper articles going back as far as the 1800s. By the way, all the information stored in these archives, physical and digital, was amassed by the library’s own staff.

“One of the major projects we’re working on is the obituary database, where we’re digitizing obituaries from microfilms, starting from 1985, and going back. We’ve gone back in The Advocate and The State Times back to the 1800s and digitized them so that you can search through them using Optical Character Recognition.”

To house the books, the Library has set up three wings; one each for children, teens and adults. All three of these wings were designed with input from each age group and offer similar services, though they’re tailored to each group’s needs and wants.

And in addition to books, archives, meeting spaces, and Internet access, the new Main Library is taking its mandate to provide information a step farther, by offering hundreds of free online classes. These classes are accessible through the library’s website, and range in topics from photography to foreign language. Also online are its collection of ebooks, archives, homework help and films.

The span of services, ambitions and size of the library are impressive enough, but even more impressive is the fact that its construction was completely self-funded. And it came in under its budget of $43.5 million. Altogether, with the cost of furniture and architect/engineer fees, the new library project cost $41,242,121.24.

“It’s all paid for,” said Stein. “Over the past many years we’ve saved and saved a little bit every year. If we found extra money in our operating budget at the end of the year – for example, things like a salary savings for an open position – it went into this building. If I knew we would buy something and it cost less than what we estimated, we would save the difference. Over time we amassed all of this money, not just for the new library but all of the parish libraries that have been built since 1986.”

Funding was also boosted by the dedicated Library Tax that was passed in 1986, but apart from that the City Parish government of East Baton Rouge did not provide funding for the project in any way, only advice.

“The city-parish was not involved in any way in funding this project,” said Stein. “They did, however, approve the project. The Department of Public Works acts as our representative to them. DPW helped us select architects, work with the government, choose our contractor, things like that. They administered this project and I can’t thank them enough, because it’s a big project.”

According to Stein, the new Main Library is part of a long-term plan to build new facilities and improve all existing libraries within the parish. It will take decades, but doing it gradually will keep the libraries from incurring debt.

“We made a 30-year Capital Improvement Plan, and as part of that we first built libraries where there were none. Then we took a look at our community branches and improved them. Then we opened the Fairwood Library, which opened in March 2013. All paid for the day the ribbon was cut. It’s a long process, but that means there’s no bonds or indebtedness.”

This 30-year plan includes renovations to the River Center Library, although keeping the Goodwood branch designated as the Main Library has stirred objections. Stein sees a silver lining to the controversy.

“There was a lot of conversation, and to me that proves that people are still interested in libraries. We’re still moving forward to place a library in the downtown area, and besides, the conversation was really about where the Main Library will be. This library and the River Center Library will be the last to be updated because at the time of making our 30-year plan, they were the newest. We want to push ourselves forward each time we update a building and we hope to apply what we learn with this building to the River Center updates.”

The library’s construction is expected to conclude in mid-April, but could be delayed until late-May if the weather is disagreeable. For more information on the East Baton Rouge Library branches and access to their online content, visit ebrpl.com.

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