New Highland Library celebrates public opening

 

A view into the Children’s Room in the brand new Highland Library. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

“A lot of room to grow”: That’s how Sara Ottaviano, head of circulation at the Highland Public Library, characterized the brand-new library building at 14 Elting Place. And indeed, the contrast between the cramped 2,900-square-foot former library space on Church Street and the new 10,250-square-foot facility is stunning. Even with most of the unpacking done, there are still shelves so luxuriously empty that books can be displayed with the cover facing forward.

Designed by Paul Mays of the Capital District-based firm Butler Rowland Mays Architects, LLP, the new library has a bright and airy feel, with a two-story cathedral ceiling topping its central “nave,” surrounded by single-story “bumpouts.” A reception area wide enough to accommodate a milling crowd at an art opening leads directly to the circulation desk, behind which lie most of the staff offices (the children’s librarian is posted closer to the center of the reading action). Turn left if you’re a local not-for-profit organization wishing to use the large community meeting room, which can accommodate 72 people for events (it even comes with a kitchen), or the cozy conference room, which has a long table, a large TV screen ideal for Skyping conference calls and warm wooden cabinetry that houses the library’s historical collection.

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If you turn right, you’ll find yourself in the media section, which Ottaviano described as “much better than what we had in the old building.” The library’s collection of 5,000 DVDs now has room to stretch — along with plenty of CDs and audiobooks. That’s also where you can find the six public computer terminals, plus printer, copier, fax and a seventh screen serving as the online catalog; hard copies of a bewildering array of newspapers and magazines, with recent issues facing forward and earlier ones stacked behind metal doors; a bring one/take one paperback exchange that doesn’t even require a library card; and an eyecatching display of new book releases. Walk a bit further and you’re into the stacks of adult fiction and nonfiction. Young Adult books line the back wall, and there’s a special Teen Room off to one side that features six computers and a giant screen set up for Wii and Xbox games.

Keep walking past the back wall of the main room and you pass through a magical portal into the Children’s Room, flanked by wooden cutouts of trees two stories high, lit by ever-changing patterns of colored lights. This enchanted realm of stories has plenty of small kid-sized tables, and chairs whose backs feature animal-silhouette-shaped cutouts. There are five more computer stations here, shelves upon shelves of books organized by age level, special sections for bilingual and oversized books, as well as board books, toys and puzzles for the pre-reading set. To the rear is the Program Room, geared for crafts projects with four tables, a double sink, lots of cupboards and even a 3-D printer. A glass display case holds a full collection of American Girl dolls in costume (for looking, not touching). Ottaviano proudly showed off the kids’ bathroom, whose walls are decorated with tiles that children painted themselves.

“Everyone who has come in has loved it,” reported library director Julie Kelsall-Dempsey on the Friday after the new Highland Public Library’s Monday opening. “Library card registration has definitely gone up in the last four days,” Ottaviano affirmed. The new building is not only spacious, cheery and comfortable, but also climate-smart. It’s well-insulated, was built and furnished using largely recycled materials and utilizes radiant heating in the foyer, children’s area and bumpouts. It doesn’t quite qualify for LEED certification, which would have significantly elevated the cost of construction, according to Kelsall-Dempsey.

In 2015, Highland School District voters approved a $4.85 million bond to finance the new building after the old library was deemed too run-down for cost-effective renovation and expansion. Because it’s a school district library, state legislators George Amedore and Frank Skartados were able to secure more than $450,000 in state grant funding toward the project, Kelsall-Dempsey said, and more than $50,000 were raised from private donors. Now, if you’re a local philanthropist with money burning holes in your pockets, there are all these bookshelves left to be filled…

Although the Community Room will be open by prearrangement during non-library hours, the rest of the facility will remain operational during the normal Highland Public Library schedule: Monday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 8 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit http://highlandlibrary.org.