• Mid-Continent busy making a ‘destination library’

  • Call it the building of many firsts. When the renovated Mid-Continent Public Library North Independence branch reopens to the public at 9 a.m. Dec. 20, the space will feature several firsts for the library system.

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  • Call it the building of many firsts.
    When the renovated Mid-Continent Public Library North Independence branch reopens to the public at 9 a.m. Dec. 20, the space will feature several firsts for the library system, including a room solely dedicated to children’s story time.
    And the library will soon include a permanent Allis-Chalmers combine on display outside – another first for Mid-Continent Public Library.
    The Examiner received an exclusive tour of the branch at 317 W. U.S. 24 Tuesday morning from Steven Potter, director of libraries at MCPL, and Jim Staley, MCPL director of marketing. The decades-old building – once a grocery store – has remained closed for 13 months in preparation for the renovations while several hundred thousands of materials relocated in the former cardiac rehabilitation unit at the Independence Regional Health Center.
    “Once people get in here 90 seconds, they completely forget what the old building looked like,” Potter said. “I think that’s a good thing.”
    The move of materials will start today and the temporary space at the former hospital will close on Saturday. During the two-week close of the North Independence branch, residents may visit the South Independence branch, 13700 E. 35th St.; the Midwest Genealogy Center, 3440 S. Lee’s Summit Road; or any other MCPL branch, Potter said.
    “Apart from me, I think the people at South Independence are going to be the most anxious people for this building to open,” Potter said, citing that the branch has experienced a 30-percent increase in its circulation because of the renovations. “It gives them an opportunity to get back to normal.”
    A grand opening celebration will take place sometime near February. The combine display and landscaping improvements will take place in the spring.
    Renovations and improvements to the facility include the following:
    • Glass display cases near the main entrance will eventually feature rotating displays, though they will first feature artifacts from the social working history of Independence. Residents donated more than 100 items for consideration in the working history collection. That is where the Allis-Chalmers combine comes into play.
    Later, those artifacts will have a permanent home in “a slightly less prominent but still visible location” inside the library, Potter said. He said other residents will likely donate social history artifacts once they see the already-donated objects on display inside the North Independence branch.
    “We’re always still interested in new and interesting artifacts for this display,” Staley said. “We’re not shutting off that opportunity for people to share.”
    • The former staff workspace and circulation desk will function as a programming room that includes built-in audio and video projectors, the ability to divide in half and may hold up to 100 people for large children’s programs or other events.
    Prior to the renovations, a traditional desk chair that sat inside the workspace would roll on its own because of the building’s foundation, Potter said.
    Page 2 of 3 - “We did this renovation for a couple of reasons. Obviously, we wanted to modernize the library and make it bigger and better,” he said. “There were really some serious structural issues with this building – this really does illustrate that.”
    • The library’s main level features four single study rooms and one double-sized study room with motion-sensor lighting. All light fixtures and outlets were replaced, and the building now features thermostats that can be programmed from the MCPL administrative headquarters building.
    A row of all-new skylights that will offer more natural lighting throughout the building. The entire building is now insulated and most of the air conditioners and furnaces were replaced with more energy-efficient units.
    “I’m going to expect that we will operate a whole lot cheaper in this building now, when we move back,” Potter said.
    • The only new construction that took place was a stairwell leading to the former genealogy space, which includes three features: a designated computer lab with more than 25 computers and an audio/visual projector, a teenager section and a permanent children’s story time room.
    • After about 15 years of closed access to the general public, the building’s basement will reopen for use. The basement will provide quiet space with laptop access. Reference and periodical materials also will be kept in the basement on compact shelving.
    “That’s something new for us,” Potter said of now viewing the entire library as one whole building, “because we really haven’t been thinking about this in terms of one space, but now we are.”
    • New aesthetics include soft seating, a fireplace, luxury vinyl floor and carpet. A digital sign to the left upon walking into main entrance that will feature events, activities and services taking place at Mid-Continent Public Library.
    • A drive-up window on west side will function as an alternate method for residents to pick up their library materials that are reserved, Potter said. He said the window also works well for parents who need to take their children to their vehicle first and then pick up the materials, as Mid-Continent Public Library has discovered at its Platte City branch.
    • A space to the left of the main entrance is designated as a bistro. Potter said the library has contacted a local vendor for services for an initial “proof of concept” and then possibly a long-term food service area. However, the space will remain unopened when the rest of the branch reopens on Dec. 20, Potter said.
    In initial discussions of renovation with the public, MCPL staff set out to create a “destination library” that featured a dedicated space for special programs, a public meeting space, a dedicated space for special exhibits, food service and spaces for children and teenagers. Based on those initial criteria, Potter said MCPL did a good job in creating a destination library.
    Page 3 of 3 - “I think only time will tell,” Potter said. “I think we’re doing everything that we can to help to ensure that it’s a destination library and that it will be something that people will want to come to and to stay, as opposed to just running in, getting something and leaving. Until we actually open the door and see the people come in, I think that’s when we’ll determine whether or not we were truly successful.”

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