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New Whitehall Library Reflects 21st Century Architectural Design

The library is evolving. Once a repository for books, there’s been a shift in emphasis. Library officials say that customers’ needs are growing. And that calls for a new architectural concept. One block east of the current Whitehall library branch on Broad Street, a new library is being built. Construction is in the final stages. “It’s a very wide open space. We have a lot of things happening within this space.” Architect Jonathan Barnes says the new Whitehall branch is the first of its kind for the Columbus system. “Children’s area, teens, adults, computers, all that is identified visibly with the actual spaces. That was one of our biggest challenges was trying to understand what this library of the future wants to be,” Barnes says. The architecture of the Whitehall library is part of a larger trend. President-elect of the American Library Association Sari Feldman says technology changes library stacks and reading habits. “In the future libraries will be more about what we do for people and less about what we have for people. So while we continue our traditional role of being a lending library we’re also the place for discovery and particularly discovery around technology,” Feldman says. The new Whitehall branch will have plenty of technology: computers and iPads for users to search information and plenty of Wi-Fi connectivity. “Over your head are some junction boxes for some Wi-Fi devices. The whole library will be outfitted with Wi-Fi devices. That’s a big part of how people will access information and learn here,” Barnes says. Barnes says the new building will be much larger than the current branch but will house fewer books. “This library is over twice the size of the previous Whitehall library. The collection, in terms of books, is half of what it used to be. So it’s a real transition in a number of ways, really more information with less paper books,” Barnes says. With fewer books the Whitehall branch can devote more space to young users who are more apt to use digital technology. “You’ll have teens recording music. You’ll have people taking college courses here. There’s a lot that’s happening here that hasn’t happened in Columbus libraries before,” Barnes says. And it will happen in an open setting. “This space that we’re standing in is almost 50 percent of the open, main, public space. This is all dedicated towards children,” Barnes says. Feldman adds that library architecture, whether physical or virtual, makes a difference. Where book stacks dominated libraries built in the 20th century, future use will hinge on keeping current with digital technology. “Libraries of the future have to be more flexible so by minimizing fixed walls and nooks and crannies, we can change up to meet the demands of our communities and our customers. And that’s very important to make sure that the buildings that we are building today will last into the future,” Feldman says. Barnes says for Whitehall, visibility is critical. “We’re 50 feet from Broad Street and you can see how much traffic is out there. We wanted this space to be a lantern towards the public. We wanted people from the community to see what was going on in here. They can drive by or walk by the library and see all the activities that are happening inside,” Barnes says. Whitehall’s new library opens in April.