New Minneapolis library promises access to books, computers and funby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
20,000 people are expected to attend when the new Minneapolis Central Library opens Saturday. Visitors to the five story, 365,000 square foot building will likely first notice its eye-grabbing architecture - complete with a 90-ton structure that looks like an airplane wing resting on top. Inside patrons will have access to more than three million books and other reference materials as well as an art gallery, nearly 300 public computers and special sections for young library people and immigrants.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Days before the thousands of expected visitors come through the central library doors for the opening on Saturday, groups of school kids are getting preview tours.
Several young visitors look over the books stacked on the curvy, floor to ceiling shelves in Teen Central. The funky sub-library has computers, CDs and space for spoken word performances and other activities.
Brett, Layla and Miiko are seventh graders at Marcy Open School.
"It's one of the best libraries I've ever seen in my life," Brett says. "It's got so many book selections and it's probably got a set of every book I've ever wanted to read."
"It's so different," Layla says. "Usually any library you go to they don't have these kind of things so this is what will make people want to come. I'd love to come here."
"The design is very new and useful. And I'm a person who likes to read and this is the perfect place to study," Miiko says.
Library officials say accessibility is at the heart of the new building and its design. Electronic kiosks are availible on each floor to help patrons find what they're looking for and new computerized systems are designed to make it easier to self-check books and in and out.
The library has also created "The New Americans Center" for recent arrivals to the country and to the state.
The center contains reference material in Hmong, Somali and Spanish. Immigrants can use the center to get information on housing, employment, health care to help them get acclimated to their new surroundings.
Warsame Hassan, who works in the directors office at the library, was born in Somalia and came to Minnesota in 1996. He says he found help by going to the Franklin Library shortly after his arrival. Hassan says the New American Center is a good way to extend help to newcomers.
"I think it's a new phenomenon, the library didn't have before. But it's a very good idea to have it now because we are having a lot of immigrants into our city and the services we are going to give them will meet their very special needs as newcomers to the country," he said.
The new library has been several years in the making. In 2000, Minneapolis voters approved a library referendum that raised $110 million in bonds. Another $15 million in private donations were raised later. In 2003, the old building was razed and later that year ground was broken for construction of the new library.
Library director Kit Hadley says the $125 million project was completed on time and on budget.
"We're incredibly excited. This is really an historic occasion. It's only the third central library opened in the city of Minneapolis since 1889. It's just a great day for the community," she says.
Hadley says she's looking forward to seeing visitors come into the new building and check out the architecture and other bells and whistles.
"But the juice of a library really is in what happens inside of it," she says. "And that's what we're all about. So on every floor, in the children's library, in Teen Central, in all the other aspects of this library -- what we are excited about is the role libraries play in helping people use information that they need to prosper, to self-govern, to have fun."
- Morning Edition, 05/19/2006, 7:50 a.m.