Public libraries in the Richmond area are being reimagined
Chesterfield County has a brand new public library.
What's happening: The new Midlothian Library opens Wednesday after a year-and-a-half, $18 million build on the site where the former branch stood for more than 40 years.
Why it matters: It's the latest local library to undergo a major upgrade to better serve today's digital reader and 21st century library user.
Details: At 25,000 square feet, the new branch is around two-thirds larger than the old Midlo Library. It also offers:
- A digital media center.
- Outdoor reading garden, complete with an outdoor classroom for storytime.
- Outdoor musical sculptures for kids.
- Improved seating for lounging and reading.
- And meeting spaces, plus a large community meeting room.
It's the county's first new library since its eco-friendly, LEED-certified Courthouse branch opened a decade ago, complete with an outdoor reading veranda and rainwater recycling system.
- Its Fairfield branch, which opened in 2019, boasts a computer lab with playpens attached to the desks for family-friendly working — and that had librarians across the world calling to copy when it opened, per the Washington Post.
Richmond Public Libraries landed a $900,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation last year for its existing Memory Lab, a space in its Main Library that allows users to digitize photos and VHS tapes and record oral histories.
- With the grant, the library plans to expand the Memory Lab as a resource for locals, particularly through working with other Richmond cultural institutions to help Black Richmonders trace and record their history and genealogy, Virginia Mercury reported.
The big picture: All the changes are a part of libraries staying relevant to the communities they serve — which has gone beyond simply lending books.
- And there's evidence that it's working.
- Community events, storytimes, public programming and free computers are among the services 21st century libraries offer that are helping drive libraries' popularity — but the biggest driver has been digital borrowing, the report found.
- Check-outs of audio and e-books — and collections that have grown to meet the increased demand — have helped propel the resurgence in library borrowing.
By the numbers: While checkouts of regular books have been steadily declining, borrowing of digital items went up by 153.16% between 2013 and 2019, per the report.
- Meanwhile, books accounted for 91% of public library collections in 2003; in 2019, books were 39% of the offerings, audio and e-books, 56%.
The bottom line: New, fancy libraries might just be here to stay.
Editor's note: This story was corrected to note that the Fairfield branch of the Henrico Library has a computer lab with playpens, not the Varina branch.
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