The modern library is much more than bricks and mortar. Libraries are places where people meet, share ideas, engage in discussions, learn new skills, apply for employment, find resources and access the internet. Libraries are places for kids to go after school or for grown-ups to work toward an online degree. Libraries are places to keep learning throughout your life. And there are always new things to learn. Libraries make a world of resources – and possibilities – available to individuals from all walks of life. The library building is a place where this limitless world can be explored.
As much as the role of libraries is evolving, library buildings need to adapt and change, too. The Flagstaff City-Coconino County Public Library building in downtown Flagstaff is 31 years old. This building has been serving the community since its doors opened on May 9, 1987. The local community has changed a lot over the intervening years; the population of Flagstaff has almost doubled. Library services have changed to keep up with the growing community. But the library building continues to serve the community very well. Hats off to the original designers and planners.
Although library staff has reorganized the interior of the library building many times over the years, eventually, more substantial updates will be required. To address this need for change, staff at the library has undertaken a number of renovation projects over the past year to update the spaces inside the library to better serve the expanding needs of the community. All of these building upgrades are made possible because of the ongoing support from the City of Flagstaff and Coconino County. Thanks to their joint leadership, city and county residents have a modern, lively, newly-updated library system.
Radio Frequency Identification Technology
The biggest change at the downtown library is the implementation of Radio Frequency Identification technology. While this is primarily a technology enhancement, application of RFID required the construction of a new sorting room and a new exterior book drop. Look closely, the new book drop addition blends in with the original building seamlessly. These additions were unveiled and went into service on April 12.
RFID technology consists of an Automatic Materials Handler (AMH), self-checkout computers, security gates and the RFID tags themselves. The RFID tags were programmed and applied to all circulating materials at both Flagstaff libraries by an army of dedicated volunteers who logged more than 1,800 hours at the library. (A big thank you to every community member who helped!) These tags uniquely identify each circulating item to the library’s centralized computer system.
The real power of RFID technology is that it allows the library to automate the check-out and check-in processes. Repetitive tasks that used to take hours of staff time can now be accomplished in minutes. Also, the new automated book drops are available 24/7/365, checking in returned items whether the library is open or not. Think of the AMH as an automatic check-in and sorting machine. AMH machines are viewable, behind glass, at both Flagstaff libraries. You’re invited and encouraged to come into the library and check it out. Besides the practical value of this technology, there’s also a coolness factor at work here.
The end result is that the library can better serve the community because items returned to the library are quickly ready to go back out to the next borrower – better handling the library’s traditional circulating materials.
Place is strengthened by incorporating the old with the new.
New Circulation Desk
The Check-out Desk (a.k.a Circulation Desk) is in a new location at the downtown library – off to the right as one enters the front doors. It looks like it’s always been there. And in a way it has. The desk itself has been part of the library since 1987. Library staff relocated, tore apart, reassembled and refinished the old desk. “Reuse, Reduce and Recycle” – everyone has heard this chant. In this case, reuse of the old desk saved money and gave new life to a worn-out piece of furniture. A new, efficient work space has been created.
Place is rejuvenated by simple team effort.
Carpeting in the public areas of the downtown library is also new. The old carpet was about 15 years old. That carpet covered a previous, older layer of carpet. All the years of dust and dirt – and the stains – are gone. The new carpet not only looks better, it should be healthier, too. The new carpet is manufactured in the U.S., renewably sourced and low in volatile organic compounds (glue too).
As part of this project, library staff worked together to move every range of books, every computer and every piece of furniture. This was difficult, physical work. Library staff did all this sweaty, backbreaking work themselves. Staff cleared an area, waited for removal of the old carpet and installation of the new, and then moved everything back. With an eye toward safety and a can-do attitude, everyone pitched in and accomplished an extraordinary amount of work (rather than hiring an outside firm).
Place is invigorated by a clean environment.
To go along with the new carpeting, some new furniture has been added. Just inside the front entry of the downtown library there is an open, comfortable seating area with rotating book displays. The “new books” are now front and center, prominently featured.
Place is brought to life by a bright, open facility that lends itself to interaction and engagement with library materials and with other people.
New Book Sale Alcove
The library’s Book Sale was shut down temporarily during the construction projects this past year. Now, the small room previously occupied by circulation staff has been converted into a new Book Sale area open to the public. The new Book Sale alcove is bigger than the pre-renovation Book Sale area. It’s brightly lit and well organized. The Book Sale is conducted by the Friends of the Flagstaff City – Coconino County Public Library, a volunteer organization raising funds to support the library’s mission.
Place is energized by community support.
The library also has upgraded the public restrooms. The new restrooms are clean, bright and well ventilated, contributing to the overall sense of the library as a comfortable place. This upgrade was no small task. Once demolition was underway, the causes of existing plumbing and ventilation problems were discovered and corrected. The end results are fresh, ADA-compliant restrooms.
Place takes care of creature comforts.
Last, but no less important, the old wooden sign that stood in front of the library since 1987 – enduring 30 years of Flagstaff weather – fell apart. A new sign made of stone and metal has been installed. There’s also a smaller sign behind the library that was recently replaced, too. Hopefully, the new signs will last as long as the original ones!
Place announces itself to everyone and welcomes them in.
“The library is truly a reflection of the community it serves, and a robust, diverse and bustling library is a sign of a healthy and invested community.” That quote is from an article published in the December 2017 issue of FBN, written by my colleagues here at the Flagstaff libraries. I would simply add that our ski lodge library – as a place to be – bolsters this image of a vibrant community resource. FBN
By Mark Cesare
Mark Cesare is the interim library director with the City of Flagstaff.