Backstory: Minneapolis leaves a bookmark
A flagship library, opening May 20, will have a theater, a hip room for teens, and fireplaces on every floor.
Patrons will check out their own books at electronic kiosks. Visitors will be able to download iTunes and eventually movies. Teens will have their own hip reading lounge where they can bring drinks and snacks and write poetry on the walls. And the librarians won't be sitting behind desks, stamping book cards. They'll be walking around among the stacks, talking on wireless devices dubbed "Star Trek" badges.Skip to next paragraph
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When the new central library in Minneapolis opens next month, it will provide a glimpse of what the library of tomorrow will look like - and a test of whether buildings traditionally devoted to books can survive in the age of the Internet. By most accounts, the downtown facility will be one of the most innovative in the nation, combining several emerging trends in library redesign under one roof.
Much of it will be familiar: stacks of books on four floors encompassing 38 miles of shelving, all open and easily accessible. But the facility will also have elements that Andrew Carnegie, the patriarch of the modern American library movement, wouldn't recognize: digital book collections, a theater for readings and film showings, and more computers than NASA - 300 in all.
Patrons will use them for everything from global online chats to discovering how to become a US citizen.
In that sense, the new flagship of the Minneapolis Public Library (MPL) system isn't competing with the Internet, but embracing it. Like other libraries across the country, the Minneapolis facility attempts to combine the reach and unlimited access of the Web with the depth and context that comes from books and other traditional resources. Libraries today are not book repositories, if they ever were, but depots for knowledge and self-learning.
"Focus groups show that the principal asset of libraries is trust, perhaps more so in a Digital Age," says Daniel Atkins, a professor of information and computer science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The new downtown central library is as provocative in design as some of the changes are among the stacks. No stuffy Greek columns here. Architect Cesar Pelli has created a post-modern building that uses blond wood and steel framing with geometry-defying angles. One plane juts out obliquely from the top of the building. Eventually a planned planetarium will rise from the roof that resembles the robot R2D2.
Mr. Pelli, known for his technically advanced designs, has created a building with no interior loadbearing walls and vast amounts of glass. Many of the windows are etched with patterns designed to evoke Minnesota white birch.
On the inside, walkways bridge the sections on each floor - not unlike this city's ubiquitous skywalks - from which patrons can see into any area of the library. It feels like the architectural equivalent of a website "entry page." Open stacks fill nearly the entire library, a contrast to the previous building in which 85 percent of the collection was underground and accessed by an antiquated pneumatic tube system.
The library sits imposingly at the end of the Nicollet Mall, the famed downtown pedestrian thoroughfare. Opening officially on May 20, it was financed with $110 million in voter-approved public funds, supplemented by $15 million in private money. That Minneapolis should be building a premier library perhaps isn't surprising. It frequently ranks among the most "literate" cities in the nation. Yet, even here, funding for books is finite: The city, like many others, has faced library budget cuts in recent years.