AUSTIN (KXAN) — After years of planning and preparation, Austin’s new Central Library is set to open downtown on Oct. 28. On Sunday, KXAN got an early preview of what the library will offer.
The library has six floors of bright, well-lit space — 200,000 square feet in total. In addition to books, it includes desktop computers as well as laptops and tablets that can be checked out for use inside the building. Visitors can try out virtual reality and interactive art displays, while children will find plenty of places to read and play. Along with places for video display, the library also offers spots to make presentations and hold meetings.
“All of the new technology really stands out to me. I really like the way they did the big pendulum clock there and the gigantic windows, and all of the new kinds of architecture that went into this building. And especially the new technology — I just love the new technology here. It’s really cool,” said 11-year-old Finn Alexander, who was one of the first to preview the library. Alexander said that the combination of places to read and new technology makes this library a place he would like to hang out after school.
Austin Director of Libraries Roosevelt Weeks said the old library lacked spots for people to meet.
“When you think of Austin, you think of South by Southwest, Austin City Limits. I want you to think of the New Central Library,” Weeks said.
While the library has plenty of opportunities to help people find books and digital material, Weeks explained that the library’s aim is larger than giving people ways to check things out with a library card.
“That’s a small piece of what we do at the library. We have a lot of people who are looking for jobs. We have a lot of people that need help with their resumes. We have a lot of people who need help with some social services issues,” Weeks said. “We are all about helping the person all around — the whole person.”
He added that the goal is to sustain this library for the next century and beyond. To do that, Weeks said, the library will depend on public and private funding. The library’s foundation and the city council will help, as will citizen donations. The library plans to generate some of that money by renting out six different places on site, including a special event center, an art gallery, and a rooftop garden. A spokesperson for the library explained that already there has been a great deal of interest in renting the space, and the public can sign up to rent spaces online starting Oct. 28.
John Gillum, facilities process manager for the library, called the New Central Library, “a high-rise, central library of the future.” Gillum would know, he’s been working with the city of Austin on library projects since the 1970’s.
“This is a library, the likes of which people in this part of the world have never seen,” Gillum said. He added that since the mid-1990’s, there has been a renaissance of central libraries in cities around the world.
There were several construction hurdles in making this new library a reality after they first broke ground on the project in 2013. Gillum explained they ran into an underground river when they were digging the parking garage, and while the mesquite flooring in the library works now, it brought them agony a year ago trying to make sure it looked right. They also had so many solar panels on the roof of the library that they had to add step-down transformers the size of refrigerators so they wouldn’t overload the power grid with the power they were producing from the panels.
In addition to the library itself, the library project built the Butterfly Bridge across Shoal Creek and an art wall around the Seaholm Power Plant. The library also made improvements along the bank of Shoal Creek to help with flood control, as well as improvements in the area from Third Street to César Chávez Street.
Cynthia Dewitt Jordan, a project manager with the public works department, explained that the library’s design is focused on sustainability, and the building is looking to get a LEED platinum rating.
Jordan added that the projects outside of the library expand opportunities as well
“We’re excited about Second Street. It has been set up so that festivals can easily take over as an extension of the library or any other festival that would want to rent Second Street,” Jordan said. “And it’s a very pedestrian-friendly space. So we’re very excited about the full extension of Second from the Convention Center all the way to West Avenue and the Seaholm Power Plant.”
The library is located at 710 W. César Chávez St.