Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
Irving dignitaries and school children broke ground for the South Irving Library on Feb. 15, making it the largest construction project in South Irving and a major step in Irving’s ongoing Renaissance. City Manager Tommy Gonzales did not pass up the opportunity to comment on how much this shows Irving’s vitality coming out of the Recession.
“When other communities are closing down facilities, we are opening up new facilities,” Gonzales said. “That’s our focus, to make sure we’re not closing down libraries; that we’re opening up new ones. That we’re not reducing the number of hours, but keeping the hours where they are.”
Mayor Beth Van Duyne congratulated South Irving on what will be the City’s most impressive library.
“We are doing what this city has promised to do. We are keeping our commitment to the environment. This is going to be the largest library that we have in the city. This is going to be our crown jewel. We are investing in South Irving,” Van Duyne said.
Beyond the new library’s cultural significance, it is a revolutionary blending of libraries’ tradition role and their place in a world, which is increasingly driven by technology. In an interview prior to the groundbreaking, Chris Dobson, the director for Irving’s public libraries, shared some of the advantages South library will have over the older Central Library. These range from easy access to wall outlets to more cutting-edge installations.
One such installment demonstrates the care that residents and civil servants alike have taken to bring a thoroughly contemporary facility to one of Irving’s oldest districts.
“We’re going to have a kiosk where you are going to be able to search the catalog and once you find your book instead of just saying it’s on the second floor, it’ll draw you a map so you’ll know [how to get to it],” Dobson pronounced proudly.
Extensive upgrades, like a multipurpose auditorium and an increased number of meeting rooms, will make South Library a better cultural epicenter than Central could ever be.
“[At Central] if we have story time going on [in the children’s room] and an event in the auditorium, that’s it; we’re booked,” Dobson remarked. “Children now are encouraged to do collaborative projects. Right now we don’t really have a place for them to do that. The study rooms we have don’t have ceilings; they aren’t really soundproofed; they only hold two people. If they take up the table [in one of the reading rooms], they have to be relatively quiet. The South library will have five study rooms of varying sizes – anywhere from two people to eight.”
While creating the designers for the new library, sharp focused was placed on optimizing the space to provide both young and old with the most comfortable and personal experience possible.
“Right now the children’s area is there on the first floor, and if a child is having a tantrum, everyone can hear it,” Dobson said. “The children’s area is going to be glassed in, so children can have a good time without disturbing everybody in the library. One of the biggest complaints we get about the Central Library building is it’s noisy.
“The teens will actually have an enclosed area so they can be as noisy as they want to be without disturbing other people. They’ll have a little privacy although it’s through the glass.”
This concept was taken a step further in the teen lounge, which, besides privacy, will boast a state-of-the-art iCreate lab.
“The iCreate lab will be a separate little room on the first floor where they will actually be able to create videos and music. We’ll have iPads and [we will] maybe be getting a Macintosh computer,” she continued. “One of the meetings rooms will have a green screen and all the lighting equipment so you can do fantastic movies.”
If this new building is beginning to sound like a Best Buy – who awarded the library a grant for the iCreate Lab – do not fear. The South Library will keep a strong emphasis on books for the bibliophiles among you who think people should go to the library to read books and to Starbucks for wifi and a power outlet.
The library’s catalog will remain relatively untouched, and the library’s designers came up with a creative way to cram the books into a building already chocked full of tech toys.
“We’ve built a basement in, and the books that aren’t checked out very regularly are put in the basement,” Dobson said. “If you need a book, you find it in the catalog, and five minutes later it’s in your hand.
“If you go to Wal-Mart, you can get a bestseller; you probably can’t buy the most recent biography of somebody unless it’s a movie star who’s in the new. The nonfiction collection is something that lasts a lot longer than the fiction collection. It’s not as subject to trends.”
Although books are still an important part of the library system, Dobson admitted that the future will likely find them less prevalent than they are today.
“In fifteen years, there may be a lot fewer physical books. We’re still going to have books for a long time, but they may not be as important a part of the collection as they are now,” she said. “We’re still going to be the place where people come for things. People come to us, not necessarily to get the book, but to find out what book to get, and that’s something that isn’t changing. That’s something that is going to be our role for a long time because we are book people.”
City Councilwoman Rose Cannaday’s words at the groundbreaking summed up libraries’ continuing relevance in the modern world.
“Libraries are the gateways to knowledge and culture, and they play a fundamental role in society. The resources and services that our libraries offer create opportunities of learning, support, literacy and education. It helps shape new ideas and perspectives that are central to a creative and innovative society. The library becomes a lifeline, particularly in these times that we’ve had with the recession, to guide those that are out of work,” she said.