The downtown branch will close Dec. 31 and will reopen sometime in March. CADL Executive Director Maureen Hirten said the renovations “will more closely represent what a modern library should be like.”
“People don’t know what libraries offer today,” she said. “We are trying to invite people in, and we need to make the space match that.”
The $647,000 renovations include a more open floor plan and greater technological resources. The library will eliminate the first floor bottleneck created by the circulation desks, and patrons will be able to check out books at service desks on both first and second floors. The glass partition between the first floor lobby and book area will be removed.
“Bottlenecks will be eliminated, and the space will be opened up,” Hirten said. “It will look really nice.”
All digital media, including DVDs and CDs, will be moved to the second floor, where computers for patrons are located. The first floor will see a consolidation of new fiction and non-fiction books, which were previously split between two floors. The renovations also include bathroom updates, new study rooms and tables with power and USB outlets for charging laptops, tablets and other devices.
Hirten said the advent of computers “changed everything” and that more and more libraries are providing digital services like e-book downloads. Over the years, the library’s reference books and journals have been “whittled down,” replaced by online resources.
The annual budget for all 13 CADL branches is approximately $12 million a year. In an typical year, nearly a quarter million people use the downtown library. During renovations, patrons are being redirected to CADL’s other branches. The branches nearest downtown are the South Lansing branch, 3500 S. Cedar St., and the branch at Foster Community Center, 200 N. Foster Ave. Both branches are easily accessible by CATA lines.
The downtown branch’s local history room and the Friends of the Library’s used book store, the Book Burrow, will be closed during the renovations.
The library system is funded primarily by a county-wide millage, and a reserve fund is being used to pay for renovations. No employees will be laid off during construction, but 31 of the 79 employees will be temporarily assigned to other branches. The remaining employees will help set up the new layout for books and technology.
Not so lucky are several dozen members of the local homeless community, who go to the downtown branch to stay warm, use computers and recharge cell phones.
Joan Jackson Johnson, director of the City of Lansing’s Human Relations and Community Services department, said the city will be looking for availability at other day shelters, such as Volunteers of America and Advent House.
But she cautioned that “no one is going to be able to replace the library.”
“Our homeless brothers and sisters also seek out a quiet place during the day,” Jackson Johnson said. “Quiet places are especially important for people who don’t do well in shelters.”
The city estimates that on any given day there are approximately 150 to 200 longterm homeless individuals on the streets. Throughout the year, there are more than 4,000 people who are temporarily homeless. While the winter months are an especially tough time to lose a resource like the library, Jackson Johnson is confident that local groups can work together to meet the needs of the area’s homeless.
“We will find a place for them,” she said. “There is no good time to close the library.”
The plans originally called for renovations to the second floor only, but the library decided to do both floors at once, leading to the decision to close for the renovations. A similar construction process was used by the East Lansing Public Library, which closed for several months this year to retool its building.
The building that houses the downtown branch, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, is owned by the Lansing School District, which leases it to CADL. The library system will undergo another major change this coming year when Hirten retires; Debora Bloomquist, chairwoman of the library’s board of trustees, said the search for a replacement will begin soon. As for the renovations, Bloomquist sees it as a long overdue update to CADL’s flagship location.
“We held off for a long time since we don’t own the building,” she said.