NORTH LIBERTY– It was a celebration for the books.
An estimated 1,400 people visited the North Liberty Community Library’s grand opening event on Sunday, Sept. 8. The community was invited to celebrate the completion of the library’s $3.3 million, 11,000 square foot expansion and renovation.
The updated space now includes more meeting and study rooms, a new periodical area, a dedicated teen lounge, new Internet and computer stations, a children’s story time room and a children’s reading area, as well as several comfortable sitting areas spread throughout the library.
The project was funded with a commitment of $2 million from the City of North Liberty, a state Department of Economic Development grant of $622,000 and private fundraising in excess of $714,000. The fundraising committee exceeded its goal in just 11 months, and the anticipated $3.3 million expansion got underway with an unofficial groundbreaking ceremony in the fall of 2011. Construction began in spring 2012, with architectural firm Neumann Monson at the helm. A more intimate celebration for donors and others closely involved in the project was held in August.
The community open house was more boisterous, with families filling the children’s area, children lined up to get an elaborate face-painting design from Fun Factory Face Painting, teens gathering in the new lounge and everyone enjoying refreshments as library committee members and city officials joined together to cut the red ribbon commemorating the project.
North Liberty Mayor Tom Salm offered a few words before the ceremony.
“We are really happy with the facility,” Salm said. “We nearly tripled the size we had. There were a few that had some doubts that we should make it as big as it is, but I think we can all see that it was needed now.”
Library director Dee Crowner said since the expanded library re-opened in August, usage has already increased by between 20 and 25 percent. A couple of features included in the library expansion and renovation will help library staff calculate overall usage.
“We put in a people counter, so we know how many people come through the front door,” said Crowner, although there is not a device to count patrons who enter from the recreation center side of the library. “We also have software for our meeting room usage, so we know who is using it, and how many hours and times in a month it gets used. That’s a big help.”
Patron Mary Thole, who attended the Sept. 8 open house, is one of those who regularly uses the library. She operates a preschool program in North Liberty and brings her children frequently. “I think it’s cool they made tables from the rec center floor, and used recycled seat belts for some of the chairs. It brought a little bit of new and old together,” Thole said.
Crowner, who has been the library’s director since 1987, said the role of a community library has evolved greatly in the last two decades, and the updates made to this library help to fulfill the demands of a growing community.
“The library is no longer just a place to check out books. It’s a place to meet and gather,” Crowner said. “Especially now that we have all kinds of seating, I’ve really noticed adults coming and staying during the day and reading in the library.”
And they aren’t just leafing through printed volumes, either.
“We also offer all kinds of new technology. As technology has grown, we have grown with it. We have NEIBORS to get downloadable e-books. Adults 18 and over can check out laptops to use in the library now, and we have all kinds of databases people can use 24/7, so if they can’t get to library they can use those from home. We have the teen lounge, a great place for teens to gather. The library is more of a general gathering place than we were ever able to provide before,” Crowner said.
City Administrator Ryan Heiar said he regularly witnesses the public’s increased patronage.
“It’s very popular. When I walk in here for meetings, there are people lined up at the front desk. Day in and day out, it’s a very used facility,” said Heiar. “ It is a great addition to the community.”
And it’s the community, Crowner added, that made it possible
“I do want to thank the City of North Liberty, all the patrons, all the donors and the entire community for all their support, both financially and generally,” she said. “We wouldn’t be here without people using the library the way they do, year ‘round.”