Feb. 4—The Blue Earth County Library is going toward a “bookstore” feel with its ongoing renovations.
With improved lighting, updated carpet and ceiling tiles, new signage and more natural light — some windows were obscured by tall shelves that were taken down — the atmosphere and mood is lighter and brighter, library staff say.
Director of Library Services Kelly McBride said even the most awe-inspiring patrons have been won over by the phase one improvements made to the adult space, which began in the fall of 2022 and ended with the installation of shelves in mid December.
“Change is kind of hard,” said library regular Bill Ashley of Mankato. “I was a little apprehensive at first. Then, little by little, my opinion changed. And right now I think it’s really good. I really do. I find books now that I didn’t even know were there.”
Improved accessibility has been a key component of the library improvements, McBride said.
“We get a lot of comments about the space being brighter,” she said. “That was our hope. That’s what we wanted, so it’s nice to hear. And our windows, our big windows in our adult space, a lot of people didn’t realize there were windows because they were blocked. Now you see them.
“The adult space is bright and that’s important in the library. Not only are individuals able to see titles easier, but there is a feeling of light and openness in the space now that I don’t think people could have imagined for the space before to the renovation.”
She said staff is waiting to see how the community responds to the updated space before making some final decisions regarding the adult area. For instance, seating has been added in front of the windows because the staff quickly discovered that’s where people want to sit.
Funding for the library overhaul is coming partially from the county, to the tune of $392,800 for the adult space renovation, and in part from a private donation of $224,000 for the youth space improvements, which are scheduled to be started this spring, summer or fall .
Like the adult space, once started, the youth area improvements will take 2-3 months. McBride said supply chain issues will determine when the youth area renovations will begin. She also wants to plan the work so it doesn’t interfere with the library’s Summer Learning Program.
A huge upgrade for the library is designing certain areas for different age groups.
About 500 people come to the library every day, McBride said, “we’re so busy.”
“For the kids’ space, it’s going to have a dedicated space for tweens and teens,” she said. “We haven’t had that at this library and I know it’s going to attract youth. Public libraries are one of the only free and safe spaces in the community where kids can hang out.”
Originally, library construction began in 1976 and the library opened in April of 1977. Ashley has been a patron that entire time, noting that he comes once a week or so.
Along with the adult area being brighter and offering improved accessibility to materials, he also appreciates how the acoustics at the library have been upgraded during the renovation.
“The acoustics in the place are really phenomenal,” he said. “Before you could hear anybody. Now you hardly hear a sound in the place. People are talking and you don’t hear them.
“I’m really impressed with it. I really am. I wouldn’t say it unless I meant it. I think it’s only going to get better and better.
“At one time, the books weren’t very popular and the library was changing over to everything else like computers. But the books are back in favor now and they have a great outlay of books of every type you could want. I love it.”