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Library system plans changes to local branches – Public invited to weigh in on proposal for new westside location

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Next week, residents of the northwest side will be invited to share their opinions on a proposed design for the new Michigan Road branch of the Indianapolis Public Library. The meeting, to be held on Jan. 18 from 5:30–7:30 p.m. at the Fay Biccard Glick Family Pavilion, is the last in a series of three public meetings held for the branch. The design schematics and renderings of the branch, which will be located at 62nd Street and Michigan Road, are derived from a concept of project architects from krM Architecture+. The $7.3 million building will be funded by a bond issue approved by the Indianapolis City-County Council.

John Helling, director of public services, said the organization’s intent was to consider the public’s ideas. Attendees of the community forums were encouraged to think outside of the norm and contribute unique suggestions. A digital initiative, via Facebook, served as an additional platform for input.

“We asked them to imagine themselves five years in the future, writing a postcard that says, ‘This is what I’m excited about at my library branch,’” said Helling. 

The remarks ran the gamut, from more traditional wishes like more study rooms and huge windows for natural light, to out of the ordinary suggestions like a drone dock. 

Helling, whose role with the library is to oversee all 24 branches as well as the outreach, programming and volunteer services departments, shared it was imperative that the community have a say from the outset of the planning process.

“It’s extremely important to us that the public feel connected to this building and to the library. We don’t want it to just be a warehouse full of books,” he said. “We wanted it to be a vibrant center of the community and for people to feel like it’s their second living room, so to speak.”

For this matter, after each public meeting, Helling and his team conversed about the input gathered and considered the feasibility of each suggestion from a cost and space perspective. In the end, many of the recommendations, such as ample space for meetings, study rooms and more computers, were included in the proposed plan.

The 20,000-square-foot facility also plans to feature spaces for early literacy programming; research and job skills counseling; 31 public access computers; and a 100-seat community meeting room with integrated audio-visual equipment.

Overall, the entire system in on track to have several changes over the next few years with more facility renovations and some closures as well, in particular the Fountain Square and Flanner House branches.

Currently, Southport, East Washington and Warren Branches are being renovated, and a plan is in the works to relocate the Brightwood branch. Through 2020, the Library plans to update five existing branches, relocate an additional three branches and build three new branches.

Recently, it was announced that the Central branch, would be opening a new Center for African-American Literature and Culture. Nichelle Hayes, the director of the center, said in a written statement that she was “excited to have the opportunity to add to the Library’s existing offerings.” 

The Center for African-American Literature and Culture will be located in the 3,990-square-foot Robert B. Annis West Reading Room at Central Library. Its targeted opening will correspond with the 100th anniversary celebration of Central Library this fall.

“We’re doing our best to position ourselves and respond to the way people use libraries. We want to make sure we’re not resting on our laurels; we’re trying to stay active and responsive and really do our best to be a 21st century library,” said Helling. 

In regards to the closures, which will happen within the next two to three years, Helling said that the library’s administration consulted population data and other sources to reach their decisions. He added that the ultimate plan is to move away from leased facilities (as is the case for both Fountain Square and Flanner House) to buildings that the Library owns outright. This, he deduced, is a better use of taxpayers’ dollars. 

 “We understand that it’s not ideal to lose your branch,” he said. “As librarians, we wish we could put libraries on every corner, but we have to try and do our best for the entire service area.” 

Helling stated there would be conversations had with patrons in both communities to determine what the library would leave behind, as they do not intend to completely vacate the neighborhoods. Proposed ideas include a weekly story time program, a remote book pick-up location and a public computer lab. 

Construction on the Michigan Road branch is slated to begin in the fall of 2017 and be completed in the fall of 2018. For more information about other library projects, visit indypl.org/renovations.

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