Lisa Schlichtman's "Exploring Steamboat" column appears weekly in the Steamboat Today.
Find more columns by Schlichtman here.
Turning the page to the digital age
When Bud Werner Memorial Library proposed a 21,000-square-foot, $12.5 million building expansion, some doubted the library's success in light of the advent of digital media. Several years later, library officials say, the proof is in the numbers.
Steamboat Springs I stare down at the swiftly running waters of the Yampa River from my windowed perch. Glimpses of golden aspen leaves and spots of scrubby brush turning orange and deep red grab my attention, signaling the arrival of fall in Northwest Colorado.
As I breathe in deeply and take in the gorgeous view below, a feeling of serenity quiets my thoughts and I am ready to write. The words begin to flow like the river outside, and my latest column starts to take shape.
At this moment, I am surrounded by the comforting quiet that only a room full of books can provide. I am at one of the wooden study tables on the second floor of Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs — a space that I discovered three Saturdays ago — a sanctuary that calls to me to visit and stay a while.
Since I was a child, books have been a central part of my life, and libraries were sacred spaces. My grandmother was a librarian by profession and worked at the historic St. Louis Public Library downtown. My first job as a teenager was at the public library in my suburban St. Louis neighborhood. I shelved books several afternoons each week and occasionally was allowed to use the metal stamp to mark due dates on the slips of paper that were glued to the inside of book jackets.
To this day, I adore the smell of books, and for this reason, it didn’t take me long to find my way through the doors of Bud Werner Memorial Library at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and 13th Street.
For a community the size of Steamboat Springs, the local library here is phenomenal. It rivals libraries I’ve found in big cities and on university campuses. Not only does the library boast an impressive collection of about 90,000 items, but the 21,000-square-foot facility has managed to create a space that is both serene and a hub for community activity.
According to Library Director Chris Painter, the expanded library, which opened to the public in 2008, was carefully planned with the needs of all its different users in mind.
“Most libraries are designed with the collection as the center,” said Painter. “We wanted to design a space where people would want to come. We thought of our users as the most important aspect of our design. Users were first; the collection was second. So we placed the collection in the middle and the user space on the outside where there is color and light and flow.”
To accomplish its mission of being a multiuse facility for people of all ages, the library’s two levels were created to be distinctively different. The bottom floor is a little noisy, Painter said, with spaces for young families, children and teens that are engaging, bright and interactive.
Gone is the stereotype of stern librarians “shushing” patrons and warning them to keep quiet. Instead, the library’s first floor is a beehive of activity with a coffee shop, self checkouts and interactive children and teen areas.
By contrast, the second floor was designed with a different purpose in mind, as a respite from the busyness of life.
“We envisioned the library as an active, social community space. The first floor is very high energy and active,” Painter said. “But we also knew that people crave quiet. They want a place to work, to think, to rest — a place to get away from the chatter of life happening around them. So the upper floor is contemplative, peaceful.”
Public art also has been incorporated into the library’s design.
When you walk through the doors of the library’s lower level and look down at the floor, you’ll find a piece of art in the terrazzo marble. The gorgeous ivory and burnished gold marble floor is actually a topographic map with elevation lines, a grid of the town of Steamboat and curving blue lines marking the Yampa River and Soda Creek. The map ends at the carpet, which marks the start of the downstairs collection, but re-emerges upstairs on the floor of the library’s Lincoln Avenue entrance.
“It’s a geographical, artistic representation of ‘You Are Here,’” Painter said.
Other public art includes an art glass piece entitled “Cottonwood Wind,” which makes up one wall of the teen area’s project room, and a laser engraving on the wood above the wall of book shelves on the first floor, which reads “These are but wild and whirling words” — a quote from Shakespeare, which is surrounded by other words from literature written in different languages.
The children’s area also is worth noting. With an overriding goal of promoting early literacy, the space is lively and colorful with interactive features that draw youngsters into a world of books and learning. There’s a whirligig contraption, which allows kids to learn the alphabet and measure their height, and the Magic Mirrored Mountain, which has Rabbit Ears on one side and Sleeping Giant on the other. Children can climb inside and discover 1,000 images of themselves reflected in two facing infinity mirrors.
“This area is designed to help kids learn how to tell a story, learn the alphabet or learn to count in a real structured, playful atmosphere,” Painter said. “Kids are learning but having fun at the same time.”
I could write a novel about all the Bud Werner Memorial Library has to offer, and for those who’ve never stepped inside, I encourage you to take a peek and discover all this free public resource has to offer. In addition to its extensive collection of books, reference materials, CDs and DVDs, the library also provides an impressive number of programs for all ages. For a complete listing, visit www.steamboatlibrary.org. Library events also are listed in the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s Happenings section, online and in print.
Editor’s note: A review of library statistics reveals that large numbers of local residents already have discovered their jewel of a local library. According to an article published in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on April 7, 2013, each East Routt Library District resident visits Bud Werner Memorial Library an average of 21.3 times each year, which is vastly higher than the national average of 5.3 library visits per person per year.
I invite readers to help me discover more about Steamboat and Routt County by suggesting places you’d like me to visit, people you want me to meet or activities you’d like me to try. You can reach me at lschlichtman@SteamboatToday.com or 970-871-4221.
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