Bud Werner Memorial Library is Steamboat's living room

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Bud Werner Memorial Library Director Chris Painter sits among a pile of one of her favorite things - books.

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Bud Werner Memorial Library

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Maggie Baumgartner, 3, uses headphones to listen to a computer program in the children's area of the new Bud Werner Memorial Library. The area is designed to allow children to explore, learn and grow.

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Some of the library's newest or most popular books are displayed on a table near one of the entrances to the new Bud Werner Memorial Library. Featuring a coffee shop and a children's area, the library has become a popular stop for locals and visitors.

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Marly Myers listens to a book on tape while enjoying coffee at the shop inside the library.

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Jeremiah Phelps is surrounded by scenic views of the Yampa River thanks to the large windows and open design of the new library in Steamboat.

Recommended reads

From the folks at Bud Werner Memorial Library

±± Chris Painter, director

"City of Thieves," by David Benioff

"Peace," by Richard Bausch

"The Story of Marriage," by Andrew Sean Greer

±± Barb Ross, board member

"Ordinary Wolves," by Seth Kantner

"The Only Kayak," by Kim Heacox

"The Lace Reader," by Brunonia Barry

±± Janet Finley, circulation desk

"The Girl With No Shadow," by Joanne Harris

"Someone Knows My Name," by Lawrence Hill

"Run," by Ann Patchett

Walking the floors of the Bud Werner Memorial Library, Director Chris Painter sees plenty of things that make her happy.

One sight - one you might not guess - is more rewarding than them all. It's not the scene of a new library card being issued or a book being checked out - two activities that are happening at a breakneck pace since the library opened a stylish, $12.5 million expansion in September.

No, whether it's a child gazing into the aquarium or an adult daydreaming in a comfy chair by a window, nothing pleases Painter more than spotting people doing that most simple of things: spending time.

"In the old days, libraries were designed around collections. They were designed around the bookshelves, basically," Painter said. "We designed this space around users. : They were craving a place to go."

In designing the new digs, library officials wanted the institution to be more than a sterile archive of information. They wanted it to be a casual, community-gathering place - a place to spend time.

The phrase "living room" came to mind.

"We wanted to provide that kind of space that you can't find when you have a lot of people living together. That happens a lot in ski communities," said Barb Ross, a library board member. "It also gives families that are crowded someplace to go."

The living-room approach is one that has allowed Bud Werner Memorial Library and others across the country to prove the skeptics wrong. For more than a decade, doomsayers have foretold the death of the library in the face of galloping technological advances and an ever-broadening scope of information easily available on the Internet.

Perceived threats include the growing practicality and popularity of e-books and the efforts of companies such as Google and Microsoft to digitize the world's physical book collections. Google boasts that it is scanning more than 3,000 books a day in its effort to amass the world's largest collection of human knowledge.

And yet, the construction of classy new libraries like Steamboat's is more rule than exception. According to Library Journal, 82 new library buildings were built in fiscal year 2007. There also were 86 additions, renovations and remodels. Combined, the projects totaled about 4.6 million square feet of construction.

"Despite this notion that we don't need libraries anymore, all the statistics and all the use variables contradict that," Painter said. "There still is a lot of passion for the book as a physical object."

Asked whether libraries are threatened in the Information Age, Keith Michael Fiels is quick to respond.

"Quite the contrary. They're definitely thriving," said Fiels, executive director of the American Library Association. "The number of people in America with library cards is at a record high."

In September, the association reported that 68 percent of Americans have a library card, up 5 percent since 2006.

Asked a similar question, Sarah Peed responds just as quickly.

"Not a chance," Peed said to the notion that her library could be rendered obsolete. "I think it's a wonderful resource for the community."

Peed visits Bud Werner Memorial Library at least twice a week with her two young children.

"It's great when you can have children that young excited about coming to the library. To get them excited about literacy is fantastic," Peed said. "Children are more tactile. They're not going to get the love of reading on the computer."

Endless Innovation

Fiels said the living-room approach is just the latest development in the continuous evolution of the American library. A century ago, Fiels said, the big argument was whether libraries should include novels in their collections.

"There's a lot of innovation going on with the goal of being able to adapt to people's needs," Fiels said.

That also was the goal in Steamboat, Painter said.

"I think libraries in general need to be responsive to their communities," Painter said. "It's difficult for libraries to move quickly in the same way the business sector can move to be responsive, but libraries do need to pay attention to what users are asking for and adjust services accordingly."

Once the board of directors decided a new library was indeed a wise investment in the Information Age, Ross said they obsessed over the details. The end product at Bud Werner Memorial Library is one where adaptation and innovation take many forms, from the color scheme to the seating arrangements.

To make the living room a comfortable one for the entire community, library officials focused on creating a variety of spaces. The first floor is an energetic space - sometimes even loud - and home to the library's multimedia collection and spaces for children and teenagers. Children's books are stacked in a bin like you might find at home, where their colorful covers can catch children's eyes better than if they were lined up on a shelf. Skateboards lean against the wall near teenagers on computers.

A flight of stairs away is a more traditional, quiet and academic library setting. As a Regis University student, this is where Peed goes to find resource materials for her courses.

"The adult section is fantastic, as well," she said.

In addition to a variety of spaces, there also is a remarkable variety of chairs at Bud Werner Memorial Library. Whether it's a funky-shaped and cushy one in the teen reading area or a wooden one at a study desk on the second floor, all are very comfortable. And that's no accident. Before purchasing any chair for the library, Ross said board members sent for and sat in examples of each model they were considering.

Bud Werner Memorial Library and others also have embraced their supposed opponent. Audio books that can be downloaded to an MP3 player, free wireless Internet access and access to the library's subscriptions to a number of rich databases are among the library's progressive offerings.

"I think it is as modern as a library can get," Peed said.

The library also has tripled its number of public computers, 30, with Internet access.

"Some people may think everybody has a computer at home and everybody has Internet access," Painter said. "But we have not seen the demand for access to public computing decrease at all. : There are many times when all the computers upstairs are being used."

Fiels said Bud Werner Memorial Library's experience is a common one.

"They can't put in enough work stations. People are standing in line to use them," Fiels said about public computers at libraries nationwide. "The number of people with computers has grown, but also, to some extent, it's leveled out."

Technology also has been used to improve libraries from an operational standpoint. The new Bud Werner Memorial Library has self check-out counters allowing patrons to bypass lines at the circulation desk to check out items or even pay fines with a credit card. And librarians can be seen trolling the aisles with electronic wands that tell them what books are missing from the shelves they pass.

"It was truly a labor of love and one truly from passion," Painter said about all the effort that went into Steamboat's new library. "And we're really pleased with the overall result.

"It's really kind of the heartbeat of the community in many ways. A library says a lot about a community. It says a lot about what its values are. And this is truly a wonderful community space. You can learn whatever you want and you can be whatever you want to be. You can start here, whether it's a new language or gardening."

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