What better way to start a new year than to reopen two of the area's most popular libraries?
The Hartford Public Library is celebrating its $42 million expansion and renovation with five days of ceremonies and events this week. The Noah Webster Library in West Hartford, which has undergone a $9 million expansion and makeover, has a pre-opening fete tonight with opening ceremonies Sunday.
The Hartford project turns a very ordinary box of a building into something much different. The original 1957 building had a cramped, dark, compartmentalized feel. Half the collection was in closed stacks. The building wasn't particularly conducive to reading.
It is now. By using a lot of glass and a major interior atrium, the building has been opened up and organized. It feels taller and lighter. The children's room, in the new part of the building built in the first phase of the two-phase project, is bright, airy and inviting, and is drawing large crowds of youngsters. The central atrium with a cantilevered staircase artfully connects the various parts of the building. The project added 45,000 square feet to the original 100,000 square feet of floor space, which means the entire collection is now accessible.
The major exterior statement is a slanted glass atrium on the front of the building that seems to bring the library closer to Main Street. It's now hard to miss the building. The library has opened in stages over the past couple of years and is drawing unprecedented numbers of visitors.
The West Hartford project, begun in September 2006, adds 17,000 square feet to the library, bringing its area to about 60,000 square feet. The main floor has been redesigned: There's a computer lab, a new teen room, gallery space and a climate-controlled local history room, among other amenities. The town took advantage of the Blue Back Square project to expand the library. It will be interesting to see how the library interacts with the new Barnes & Noble bookstore just across the square.
Because our era is increasingly dependent on education and access to information, public libraries are as important as they've ever been. Cities as unlike as Chicago, Seattle, Denver and San Antonio have made new and restored libraries a top-tier priority. The newly restored libraries in Hartford and West Hartford bode well for the region.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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