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Profile: Madison Public Library

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Central Library undergoes $29.5 million revamp:

The showpiece for the Madison Public Library network is the Central Library, 201 W. Mifflin St., which reopens in September 2013 after an 18-month construction project designed to double the space accessible to visitors.

The new building, near the Capitol Square downtown, is much more than a repository for books and documents. It is described as a library of the future because of its flexible design and the library’s expansion of mission.

Environmental considerations:

Although Central Library is a new structure, much of the previous building’s materials were repurposed, and that helped drop the cost of library construction to 27 percent less than average nationwide. MS&R Architecture also included an abundance of natural lighting and solar panels in their design. A part of the roof is “green” and will collect storm water. Some floors are made of recycled rubber tires. A part of the exterior is zinc, which requires no maintenance. Outside are racks to accommodate 50 bicycles.

These features are a part of what makes the library an environmentally sensitive and eco-progressive building. A silver level of Leadership Energy and Environmental Design certification is expected from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Signs of library appreciation:

In 2010, more than 20 percent of all Madison Public Library visits were to the Central Library. That’s 500,000 visits out of about 2.3 million. About 25 percent of the people who attended library events went to one at the Central branch.

The late and legendary author Studs Terkel observed that "All you need in life is truth and beauty and you can find both at the Public Library." In the new Central Library is a 16-foot-tall wall of books that each contain 40-character words of appreciation and dedication from library fans, each of whom paid $250 to support the library project.

During the 18 months of construction, a temporary and small downtown library was maintained at 126 S. Hamilton St. Of the $29.5 million, $21 million comes from city funds and the remainder is private donations.

Library network, significance:

The Central Library is the largest in Wisconsin's seven-county South Central Library System, which has 42 regional libraries. It is the headquarters for the system’s cataloging department and most collections, making it a hub for distribution of materials.

Madison’s first public library was established in 1875. The cornerstone of the former Central Library was set in 1965 and contained a time capsule of library materials from that year.

The opening of the new structure coincides with the library board’s decision to become a major sponsor of the 2013 Wisconsin Book Festival, an annual event that the Wisconsin Humanities Council began in 2002.

In Madison are eight smaller branch libraries: Alicia Ashman, 733 N. High Point Rd.; Goodman South Madison, 2222 S. Park St.; Hawthorne, 2707 E. Washington Ave.; Lakeview, 2845 N. Sherman Ave.; Meadowridge, 5740 Raymond Rd.; Monroe Street, 1705 Monroe St.; Pinney, 204 Cottage Grove Rd.; and Sequoya, 4340 Tokay Blvd.

The Goodman branch opened in 2010, Sequoya in 2008 and Ashman in 2001. These public libraries are in addition to college and university libraries in Madison. For example, more than 40 libraries and specialty reading rooms are located at the University of Wisconsin.

How Central Library changed:

Plans kept in mind the changing forms of education and communication. For example, the number of computers available for public use has tripled. Seating increases 148 percent, to 325 seats. A media lab contains equipment for producing movies to music.

The new Central Library also has a 250-seat auditorium, 75-seat room for other programs and almost two dozen smaller rooms for private meetings, work and study. Children and teens have designated areas to congregate.

On the third floor are an art gallery, reception space and outdoor terrace. At ground level is a coffee kiosk and bookstore operated by Friends of the Library, volunteers and others whose efforts supplement what the library’s budget cannot afford.

The $29.5 million and 119,200-square-foot project boosts this library’s reputation as a community center and free resource for all, especially the city’s most at-risk residents. The new library includes space for social service outlets to assist the disadvantaged, especially the homeless who have tended to congregate at the facility, particularly during bad weather.

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