A Facility Forever Young

Kids' comfort rules in Cedar Rapids’ library plans

May 27, 2011

What do young people want?

When it comes to library space, they’re inclined to seek sophisticated yet comfortable areas. In a focus group that gave teens the opportunity to advise librarians and architects charged with designing the new Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Public Library, their wishes were simple: Skip the clashes of color that might be considered cool or edgy, library Director Bob Pasicznyuk recalls them saying. Instead, teens said they wanted a dynamic space that evokes the atmosphere of a coffee shop. More than video games, these teens talked about “lots of great books” as a feature of young adult space, Pasicznyuk said.

The work of OPN Architects, Inc. will allow Cedar Rapids teens to have all this and more.

As recovery from the 2008 flood that closed the library’s main site progresses, ideas about delivering youth services have been central to planning a new facility. In the new library, to be built downtown along the edge of Green Square Park and across from the city’s original Carnegie library, a third of the floor space is allotted for young adult and children’s areas. A library’s values should be reflected in its use of space, Pasicznyuk explained, and meeting young people’s developmental needs is a service priority for CRPL.

Both children’s and young adult spaces will be on the first floor, and floor-to-ceiling glass walls will make the collections visible to patrons as they approach the facility, architect Bradd Brown said. In designing the children’s room, Brown and his colleagues considered how a young child’s use of a library differs from that of a preteen. The result: The children’s room has four zones suited to different ages. While a parent and a young child might want to read in chairs ringed by low-height bookshelves, an older child might be more inclined to other activities. One clever feature is a magnetic chalkboard wall that might be used by children or by librarians during storytime. Architect Mindy Sorg and Pasicznyuk predict that lava lamp–like circles on the floor, which change colors when stepped on, will be popular.

A distinctive element, Sorg noted, is a room set aside a community organization, the Community Early Literacy Institute. Pasicznyuk described the collocation of services as a way of offering “one-stop shopping for literacy to the community.”

The young adult area, he noted wryly, has been “strategically placed by the coffee shop.” Also nearby will be spaces for media use, such as laptop counters. Together, these features should support the sense of bustle and activity that teens in the focus group talked about, Pasicznyuk predicted. A flue-less, and therefore moveable, fireplace will help create the desired comfort factor (adult readers will have a fireplace of their own, too). Low-height shelving will be placed around the circumference of the room to further facilitate flexible use of the space, Brown said.

In addition to thinking about all the things that young adults want and young children need, Pasicznyuk and OPN have thought about another aspect of young people’s lives—their future. “We wanted to create a design that would stand the test of time,” Brown said. That goal has been conceived broadly, with attention to the environment as well as the facility itself. The building is designed to meet the highest LEED certification criteria, with a green roof terrace and cisterns to contain stormwater on site.

Through creative and challenging perspectives on service to the community, the new Cedar Rapids Public Library stands to shape the lives of its users in more ways than one.



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