Arone Matiyas’ favorite thing about the newly remodeled Galaxie Library in Apple Valley isn’t the giant round window where children can watch books being returned, the high-tech “maker space” or even the oversized Lite-Brite wall in the kids’ area.
It’s the teen section, with its soundproof rooms and quiet zone. “You can sit down with your friends and just hang out,” said Matiyas, 14.
His twin brother, Musay, studies there several times a week, as does their mother, who is working on her college degree. “I can’t focus at all except at this place,” Musay Matiyas said.
There looks to be something for everyone at Galaxie, the first of three Dakota County libraries to undergo remodeling, at a cost of $5.4 million. It reopened in September.
Meanwhile, construction is underway at Heritage in Lakeville and Pleasant Hill in Hastings, which will reopen this summer after completion of $5.8 million and $3.6 million renovation projects, respectively.
County officials said the projects demonstrate Dakota County’s ongoing commitment to its library system, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“We’re finding that people are using the library differently now,” said Margaret Stone, Dakota County Library director. “In the past, people thought of a library as a warehouse for books, and now it’s become more of a community hub.”
Between 1.6 million and 1.8 million visits are made to Dakota County’s nine libraries annually, Stone said, and 40% of the visitors don’t check out materials. They use the internet, work on projects or meet with others.
That new reality is reflected in the renovations at Heritage Library, which includes an expanded driver’s license center. The library’s 2,900-square-foot addition is complete, but the interior is still being finished in preparation for its reopening in late summer. It will feature a quiet zone, more meeting space, additional study rooms and a “calming space” designed with therapeutic toys and other motor-skill objects and special furniture for people with autism or other sensory issues.
“We have found that people have left or they don’t use the library because [the space] is not available,” Stone said.
On a tour of Heritage, officials underscored the building’s improved energy efficiency, which they said exceeds requirements.
County Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg, who represents Lakeville, said she remembers checking out books as a kid from a bookmobile that would visit downtown Lakeville, long before Heritage opened.
Holberg said that updating the county’s libraries, which is typically done on a 12- to 15-year cycle, is important because “we have to keep up with the changing youth.”
Lakeville’s rapid growth means its library needs more space, Holberg said, adding that when one library is redone, residents want the same improvements at the library nearest them.
Pleasant Hill in Hastings will reopen in midsummer with 1,500 square feet of new space. It’s one of the libraries that Commissioner Mike Slavik said he visits frequently.
It will have an enhanced children’s area, he said, an expanded community room and, like the other two revamped libraries, an iLab with a 3-D printer and other technology.
Because of Hastings’ location it will feature a river theme, with an illustration of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers coming together.
Bill Asp, who served as director of the Dakota County Library system from 1996 to 2003, said he remembers introducing personal computers and internet access to the library in 1996. Libraries often emerged in surveys as the most-used county service, he said. “It was great fun to work there because of the positive reinforcement … for everything we did,” Asp said.