Families can feel at home in a large Children's Room in the renovated Central Library.Photo courtesy of St. Louis Public Library
When Central Library shuttered its doors for major renovations in 2010, it did so with a firm reputation as an architectural wonder and a bibliophile's dream. Two-and-a-half years and $70 million later, the restored building is set to reclaim another mantle from its rich past: focal point for community activity.
Located at 1301 Olive in downtown St. Louis, the 190,000-square-foot library has been regarded as a marvel of Italian Renaissance design since opening in 1912. But in the century that followed, the building eventually began to show its age, and its functionality seemed limited among younger generations unfamiliar with and disinterested in card catalogs and ancient tomes.
When Central Library reopens to the public on Sunday, Dec. 9, all of that will change. The reinvented space is meant to be much more than a place to check out a book or conduct research for a term paper. It aims to be a hub of community activity with a broad range of programming for families and visitors of all ages. The renovations range in scale from tiny details like the beautifully restored alabaster and marble lamps in the Great Hall, to major structural changes like the removal of the seven-story stack tower that formerly housed most of the library's massive 4.7 million-piece collection. The new design has resulted in 83 percent more public space. The collection is now disbursed throughout the three above-ground floors of the library in rooms that are warm and inviting but that retain much of their original charm. Natural light and soft LED lighting replace the earlier garish fluorescents. New cork flooring, fresh carpeting and tapestries are found throughout the library. A large new Center for the Reader is located on the ground floor and houses magazines, newspapers, popular books, as well as plenty of seating. Adjacent to the Center for the Reader are the large and inviting Children's Room and the Teen Rooms. Several after-school programs for teens are in the works, including board game clubs, writing clubs and even Xbox 360 and Wii tournaments. For younger kids, expect lots of story time events, craft activities and children's theater productions. Technology figures heavily in the renovated facility. Wireless access is now available throughout Central Library, and broadband infrastructure has been installed in concrete floor channels below all public use rooms. A large public computer room has been added, and laptops and iPads will be available for patron use throughout the library. Another major addition is the Creative Experience, a technology-packed room with four large workspaces for use by organizations and groups to collaborate and share information.
The lower level of the library features a 250-seat auditorium where the building's coal bin once was located. The new space will be used for lectures, presentations, musical performances, theater productions and film screenings. Piwacket Theatre will present a production of "Snowman's Revenge" there at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15, as part of the new Family Theatre Series. Beginning in late December, a series of films with St. Louis connections will screen in the auditorium.
Central Library will be open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Central Library is located at 1301 Olive St., St. Louis, Mo., 63103. Call 314-241-2288 for more information.