Two years after Uptown’s bunkerlike Walker Library closed for a complete overhaul, crowds gathered on Hennepin Avenue on Saturday to see its rebirth as a modernized, street-level facility.
The colorful new library features an array of meeting spaces named after the Chain of Lakes, a plethora of leather seats for reading, rentable iPads, a children’s play area, “roof monitors” that capture sunlight and big windows. It sits at a key intersection in Uptown, right off the Mall on the corner of Hennepin and Lagoon Avenues in Minneapolis.
“When we started this project we wanted to build a 21st-century library,” said Lois Langer Thompson, Hennepin County’s top library official. “And I think you’re going to find we achieved that.”
The $12 million project was paid for almost entirely by Hennepin County, with about $500,000 coming from the city of Minneapolis, said Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat. The county operates 41 libraries.
Project planners hope that the new Walker will serve as a gathering space for Uptown, which lacks the civic structures that are more prevalent downtown.
“When you think about it, there aren’t many places that people can go to gather, to read, that you don’t have to pay for something,” said Lois Lenroot-Ernt, the library project manager. “But the library is one opportunity where people can gather, can sit, can read, without having to spend a dime.”
To that end, they have added extra meeting spaces, affixed reading areas with an array of outlets, and installed a machine that allows people to check out iPads for use in the building — a first of its kind in the county library system. Patrons can also read an array of magazines, including back issues, which are displayed on racks.
The library’s architecture also dampens acoustics, partly through holes in the ceiling and blue paneling around the perimeter.
“This is one of the busiest corners in Minneapolis,” Lenroot-Ernt said. “And I’m amazed that you really can’t hear very much outside.”
An entire segment of the building is devoted to children. It includes a reading loft, interactive play sets and a measurement board that allows them to compare heights with a moose.
“One of the things we were trying to do is have different kinds of seating for parents to sit and read to their kids,” Lenroot-Ernt said.
The old Walker Library, which was built largely underground, featured massive metal letters along Hennepin Avenue spelling out “LIBRARY.” Those letters have been moved to the back of the new building and can be seen from a window in the reading loft.
One possible project on the horizon is reconfiguring the Mall, a space that sits largely unused except during the Uptown Art Fair, so that it is more integrated with the library.
“There are some options, we just have to figure out how to fund it,” said former Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, who estimated it would cost about $1 million.
The new Walker Library will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The hours will be noon to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. It will be closed on Sundays.