On June 25, the building will welcome the public again, the fourth of 10 CML branches scheduled to be renovated or rebuilt as part of a systemwide $130 million overhaul. Library administrators offered a sneak peek of the Main Library, and as the construction dust settles, the future looks bright.
After $35 million and 16 months of work, the Main Library sits at a crossroads. The Columbus Metropolitan Library's flagship branch, entering the final weeks of a vast renovation, seeks to become a passageway, channeling energy from Downtown and natural beauty from Topiary Park. A restored Carnegie Plaza greets visitors on Grant Avenue, and the serenity of the new Park Plaza beckons from the east.
The building's interior has also been transformed; a once-dark space is now filled with sun thanks to skylights and walls made of glass. It's a blend of old and new-Beaux-Arts architecture from the turn of last century adorned with space-age LED lights and streaming Wi-Fi on the outdoor patio.
On June 25, the building will welcome the public again, the fourth of 10 CML branches scheduled to be renovated or rebuilt as part of a systemwide $130 million overhaul. Library administrators offered a sneak peek of the Main Library, and as the construction dust settles, the future looks bright.Literaturein a New Light
Gregg Dodd stands on the ground floor of the new atrium in the Main Library, pointing to the communal gathering areas above. They used to be administrative offices, enclosed by mirrored glass so that staff could look out but others couldn't see in. Now those spaces are wide open and bathed in light. "We're giving the best views back to the customers," he says.
The director of marketing for Columbus Metropolitan Library is leading a hard-hat tour of the building's $35 million renovations 70 days before the public debut. Cement is still drying nearby and there are no books in sight, yet the sweeping changes are already apparent. Downtown rises in full view through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the third level, while the glass wall on the building's east side reveals the treetops in Topiary Park. It's an abrupt pivot for a venue where sunlight was long considered an enemy due to its damaging effects on paper. The abundance of windows, skylights and transparent walls were constructed with low-e glass, which blocks harmful rays while letting in sunlight, says CML's Ben Zenitsky.
The themes now are openness, connectivity and transparency. The building, originally constructed in 1907 with a $200,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, spans the eras with its combination of historic marble veneer and new glass skin. The project set out to enhance Carnegie Plaza on Grant Avenue and create a connection with Topiary Park, establishing the building as a conduit between greenspace and the urban core. The brand-new Park Plaza will feature an outdoor patio with Wi-Fi and a small performance space. Visitors can also enjoy a grand reading room on the second floor, the revamped children's section, which focuses on early childhood literacy, and the expanded Friends of the Library Store, which has almost doubled in size.
Despite all the changes, the Main Library's square footage and the size of its collection remain the same-it has just been reimagined to reflect the requirements of modern guests. It's part of the larger ongoing redevelopment of Downtown, though the project has differed from last year's vaunted expansion of its neighbor to the north, the Columbus Museum of Art. "When the museum was going up, there was a big new box. Love it or hate it, you could see what was going on. Here, you can't really tell what's going on until you get inside," says Columbus Metropolitan Library CEO Patrick Losinski. "And when people get inside, I think they're going to love it."
Americans love a good opening ceremony-the lighting of the Olympic torch, a bottle of champagne broken across a ship's bow, that wobbly first pitch from an embarrassed celebrity. The two-day festivities for the Main Library's grand reopening will proceed with similar gusto, though visitors probably should refrain from smashing magnums of bubbly across the new façade.
The unveiling will kick off at noon on June 25, followed by a host of other free opening weekend events. The highlights include:
Dedication and Ribbon-cutting
Members of the public, library leaders and city officials (and possibly a few special guests from Washington, D.C.) will gather on Carnegie Plaza facing Grant Avenue for remarks and a welcoming ceremony. Then the Downtown branch will finally open its doors for guests to explore and enjoy various activities throughout. Noon, Saturday, June 25
Concert in the Park
Topiary Park, now visually and physically connected to the library, will host a special edition of its family oriented PBJ & Jazz concert series, featuring the Caribbean Jazz Sextet. 2-3 p.m., Saturday, June 25
The Topiary Park Summer Movie series will screen the first film of the season, "The Lorax," a 2012 adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic. Dusk, Saturday, June 25
Author Talk: David Baldacci
The weekend will conclude with a talk by bestselling novelist David Baldacci, author of "Absolute Power" and "The Last Mile," in the reading room overlooking the park. The event is free but will be ticketed due to limited space. 2–4 p.m., Sunday, June 26
Free parking will be available all weekend in the Main Library garage.Art, Open for All
The Main Library's renovation was no minor facelift, no overnight nip-tuck. Workers removed more than 1,000 tons of concrete, constructed a brand-new glass wall to the east end and tore down interior partitions throughout. The process cost $35 million, and the library was closed to the public for more than a year. Yet when it reopens on June 25, at least one thing will remain unchanged: renowned Columbus artist Aminah Robinson's "Life in the Blackberry Patch" mural will still adorn the central atrium staircase.
Even this preservation was no small feat. First, the artwork had to be carefully removed from the old staircase before demolition. Then it was placed on panels to make it easier to move, says Alison Circle, Columbus Metropolitan Library's chief customer experience officer. A new staircase was built to the mural's exact dimensions so that visitors will again be greeted by the same iconic artwork when they return. The message is clear-art matters here.
It wasn't all about preservation, though, as the library's leadership also wanted to incorporate original works to mirror the redesigned aesthetic of the building, a process Circle summarizes as, "How do we use art to establish that newness?"
After reaching out to several artists around the country, CML eventually picked Virginia Overton from New York to complete the Main Library's new centerpiece. She came up with a plan to reuse the marble torn from the original Carnegie building's veneer to create a sculpture in Park Plaza, adjacent to Topiary Park. Unfortunately much of the material was fissured and cracked as workers removed it from the building, so Overton worked with Columbus Art Memorial, a local monument-making company, to salvage enough to finish the piece.
"I didn't want to bring new marble to supplement," Overton says. "I really wanted it to stay true to the building." They figured out a way to cut and stack the marble to create the sculpture as she intended; once completed, it will be five square columns, each approximately 6 to 8 feet tall, randomly placed on a 10-foot- by-15-foot space on the plaza.
The sculpture will help highlight the library's rejuvenated appearance, though it's just one of a number of new works installed at the location. The Main Library will feature six large photos of sculptures made of books, created by distinguished local artist Ann Hamilton. Each of the 10 branches scheduled to be renovated or rebuilt by CML will include prominent artwork, an undertaking advised by Tom Katzenmeyer of the Greater Columbus Arts Council, Nannette Maciejunes from the Columbus Museum of Art and Rebecca Ibel from the Pizzuti Collection.
Circle says that libraries nationwide have a long association with public art; both are expressions of intelligence, community, understanding and inspiration. Libraries also offer a chance to install art outside the walls of museums and galleries, Overton says.
"They're gathering places, they're meeting places, they're open to all, as it says above the door on the way in," saysKatzenmeyer, GCAC's CEO. "I hope that people leave the visit to the library with an appreciation for art. That's all we can ask for. I just want people to appreciate it, value it, advocate that we continue to do things like this in our public spaces."