Jan 31, 2024 - News

Public libraries in the Richmond area are being reimagined

A pretty, modern building with windows on all sides

Midlo Library, 2.0. Image: Courtesy of Chesterfield County

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.
the inside of a pretty library with tons of books and comfy seats
So many cozy chairs, so little time. Image: Courtesy of Chesterfield County

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.

State of play: Chesterfield isn't the only locality upgrading its library. Henrico rolled out new and improved (and LEED-certified) branches at Libbie Mill and Varina in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

  • 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.
Children playing in a big library garden with climbing rocks and tunnels
Kid's storytime will happen out here in nice weather. Image: Courtesy of Chesterfield County

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.

Despite budget fights and book-banning headlines, public library use is thriving, according to a 2022 state of U.S. public libraries report.

  • 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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