Before Shoreview’s expansive new library opens later this month, the coolest thing Carol Jackson can do is click on the remote that brings the fireplace stutteringly to life and run her fingers through the wispy, mesmerizing flames.
They aren’t real flames, just smoky and lazily dancing vapor lit from beneath. Still, the fireplace is a symbol of what the community wanted from its new library.
“Warm and welcoming,” said Jackson, the branch manager for the new regional library, as she gazed across an expanse of walnut paneling, water-themed carpeting and walls of glass overlooking landscaping and natural areas outside.
The opening later this month of one of three flagship libraries in the Ramsey County system completes a round of additions, makeovers and whole new structures for the library system that began in 2005.
The Shoreview library is a significant step up from what had been a modest-sized local branch to a new building with about $50,000 worth of new materials, a sun-washed suite of offices for the systemwide administrative leadership, and a sunny “book club room” with soft chairs and ottomans ranged in a circle.
The glass-walled study rooms represent quite the upgrade from what Jackson hesitantly characterized in the old building — “Can I say this?” she asked the new systemwide director, Jill Boldenow — as “like jail cells, with cinder block walls: dreary.”
The new library does not, however, come off as an architectural ego trip, the kind of “statement building” beloved of some public bodies these days. One’s eye is drawn to the books, not the binding. It feels spare and modern.
Circulation Director Mark Bullock, eyeing the drooping teardrop lighting near the entrance, calls the view from that point “a 1950s idea of ‘The Future.’ ”
Boldenow pointed out that while the old building sat back behind a parking lot, the new one shoulders its way right up to the busy county road racing past Shoreview’s civic center complex. Globes of bright white lights, strung in a row behind tall windows, will beckon to passersby as dusk sets in.
She also said that oak trees felled to clear the site for the building (along with two houses once there) are being refashioned to create a long “laptop bar” where folks can plug in their own mobile computers and connect to public Wi-Fi. That row of patrons also will be visible to passing motorists, creating a Starbucks-like vibe that could draw people in.
An $800,000 state grant helped make the building more sustainable, said project manager Bill Michel. The floor is dotted with what look like miniature, slotted manhole covers, which allow waste heat from ducts underneath to waft into the room. The lights overhead dim as the sunlight outside brightens, helping cut any overlighting when Mother Nature offers to illuminate the printed page.
Glass walls meanwhile separate a teen zone from other patrons in hopes of “managing noise” — the new library-speak for what a writer in Salon.com once called the resented image of “bun- and glasses-wearing shushers, hellbent on silencing any and all noisy activities within their sacred domain.”
There will be plenty of noise when a grand opening celebration is held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 28. The ribbon cutting will be at 10 a.m., followed by music by the Mounds View High School Orchestra. An ice carving demonstration will be held outside the building.