Editor’s Note: Telluride’s public library debuted with the arrival of founders Larry and Betty Wilkinson. In 1965, a bookmobile came into town once a week. That was it for book lovers. Years later, the Wilkinson Public Library’s present-day 20,000 square foot library nearly wasn’t built. After a recount, the 1997 referendum passed by a margin of only two votes. The new building opened August 2000. In 2011,  for the fourth time in a row (and running), the Library Journal Index of Public Library Services, a public library rating system, designated Telluride’s Library a five-star institution. The Wilkinson Public Library ranks fifth in the nation among public libraries with annual budgets of $1 – 5 million, hence the name of library director Barb Brattin’s semi-regular column. This very special installment of Barb’s semi-regular series focuses on the relatively new and always improving facility, whose birthday is Sunday, August 12.

The Metamorphosis of Public Buildings

Public buildings are built to last 100 years or more. That works if the building is simply meant to house bureaucrats in square offices. It doesn’t work so well when the structure is meant to be used for public activity. I once visited a seminary library in Chicago built with magnificent marble floors and walls that made Internet access impossible before the advent of wireless. The old library in Orrville, Ohio housed its book collection on built in wooden shelves that filled the building’s perimeter, flanked by wood burning fireplaces. Pretty? Yes. Functional? Not in modern times.

Today’s library architects understand the need for flexible spaces. Where once library buildings were meant to house collections, today they are also used as collaborative spaces, offering community gathering places for programs, meetings and content creation. New libraries are designed with modular walls, raised floors that provide easy access to HVAC and wiring components, and acoustical components that allow for side by side noisy and quiet areas. The result is space that will more easily respond to changes in library roles, technologies and collections.

Sunday, August 12, the Wilkinson Public Library building on Pacific Street celebrates its 12th anniversary. Visitors to the building today are not visiting the same building unveiled in 2000: as the use of the building has changed, so have we changed the interior to support the new activities this community enjoys.

For one thing, our collection has grown and despite growth in ebook use, continues to remain heavily focused on physical materials. To find more room for our adult collections, we shifted our stacks at an angle, providing space for 40% more books and the added bonus of more natural light. As the community transitions to wireless devices, the computer lab has been repurposed to create more meeting space. Two service desks were minimized to accommodate self-service and create displays of new materials.

In 2008, WPL partnered with the Telluride Film Festival, Mountainfilm, and Friends of the Library to transform the existing library program room into a true theatre space, saving the festivals set up time and providing a venue for film events all year at the library.

Seven years ago, we took note of the rising local birth rate and invested money in an expansion and redesign of the children’s area, adding more programming and more staff. Now those same kids who grew up in the library are transitioning to teen services, bringing unprecedented numbers and enthusiastic energy to a small, open space.

So, one again, we’re responding. Over the next few months we’ll be expanding the teen service area to accommodate our youth, walling in the area to provide a space where teens can co-create using the latest technologies and interact with their friends while maintaining a relatively peaceful atmosphere for our adult visitors.

Some people have commented to me that our library has become a day care center.  My response is always the same: as long as we can provide a healthy environment for the kids of our community and as long as the kids have no other place to go for the same positive experience, we will be here for them.

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