East Lansing Library Gets a Fresh New Look: An anonymous $1.5 million donation prompts massive overhaul

Thanks to a generous boost from an anonymous donor, the East Lansing Public Library (ELPL) recently underwent major changes. The municipal library works closely with the city of East Lansing, as well as the statewide library community, serving countless guests each day.

The ELPL Director Kristin Shelley spoke about the donation and renovation process.

“Right after the donation, we started the process of sending out RFP’s and recruiting architects. It was kind of different because the donor really wanted to know what those architects could do for us before they actually sent a dollar amount. We sent the visions we had and then they came back with a dollar amount,” she said.

The building committee behind the plans included city and library employees, the library board, friends of the library board and community members. About 18 people vetted prospective architects; the overall design was a deciding factor in the final choice.

The renovations began in December 2015, with the library closing for about three weeks, leading into January 2016. After space was cleared for a construction wall to be built, half of the library remained open to the public. In May 2016, the other half of the library was then under construction. This was done in order to keep as much of the library and resources available as possible to the public.

The new facilities were officially unveiled during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 1, 2016. So far, the reception has been positive, even for longtime, regular library patrons.

“We had probably over 500 people come to our ribbon cutting and finally get back into their full library. Even today, we see people walk in that haven’t been in for a while; you can see it in their face, they just go ‘wow.’ People love how open and bright it is,” Shelley said.

Many changes focused on the library’s floorplan; opening the main area and shifting station locations, although there were no actual changes to the library’s square-footage.

“This building is about 25,000 sq. ft. – too small for the population it serves. The $1.5 million donation, although incredibly generous, did not allow for an expansion,” Shelley said.

One of the major accomplishments was creating a large space for students that frequent the library after school. Being located in close proximity to East Lansing High School, the building is a popular space for afterschool programs and more. Originally the space available for students could only hold about four teens at a time, the space now renders a capacity closer to 65. In addition to more space, the teen center also features big screen TVs for gaming, comfortable chairs and a high-top counter with outlets and charging stations. There is also a cyber café area, with coffee vending, juices, water and snacks in the front of the building.

Computers featuring early learning and developmental top-rated educational games are now available to the public. Geared toward new readers and learners, each station’s keyboards are even color-coded coordinated for vowels and consonants.

The lengthy circulation desk was removed and replaced with a single service desk area for reference and circulation. The station is in the center, and proves to be much more efficient than its linear predecessor.

“Now with our central service desk,” Shelley said. “it’s circular so we can have a 360-degree service area, rather than one that was very long and linear. This way, people can come behind the desk, stand, and look at the same computer as a staff member and they can explain what is going on.”

Breaking barriers and opening up the floorplan was the main goal at the heart of the renovations.

Another improved feature is the Maker Studio, which houses 3-D printers, sewing machines, Apple computers with the Adobe Creative Suite, audio programs for podcasting and a sound recording room for rent. A new grant with Home Depot will soon allow library patrons to check out tools including drills and other power tools. All of these resources are available to the public, free of charge, except print credits.

In fact, all resources and events held at the library are generally open to everyone. The only thing that requires a library card is checkout circulation materials. Library cards are free to MSU and LCC students as well as city of East Lansing residents and property owners. Outside residents can purchase a library card for $30 per year. Compared to this small membership fee, these new features aren’t so cheap.

“It’s expensive and that’s where our top costs are; it’s technology,” Shelley said. “The entire $1.5 million donation went solely toward the public areas, none of the staff sections or back areas were remodeled. Hopefully next on the list can be an expansion, a larger parking lot and resurfacing.”

For now, though, everyone working at the library is excited for their bright, clean, freshly painted, tiled and carpeted digs to be on display.

Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn received her degree in Journalism from Lansing Community College. She’s a concert junkie; living and breathing in both the local and national music scene. She is proud to call Lansing her home, finding a new reason every day to be smitten with the mitten.

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