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Renovation proves library offers more than books

Oliver Thomas plays with a toy toolkit in the new children's learn and play space at the Fairview Park Library Branch Saturday. (West Life photo by Kevin Kelley)

By Kevin Kelley

Fairview Park

If anyone still had the notion that the public library was just a place that lent out books, the recently completed $1 million renovation of the Fairview Park Branch Library will rectify that thinking.

“The library is dedicated to providing the community what they’ve asked for,” branch Manager Elaine Wilkinson explained.

What the public asked for was more computer classes and career assistance, she said.

A new computer lab with 16 terminals is one of three main components of the renovation. A ribbon-cutting ceremony marking its completion is scheduled for 5 p.m. today at the building, located at 21255 Lorain Road. The public is invited to the event, which will include light refreshments.

Opened in mid-June, the second-floor computer lab will be used for free classes on computer basics and popular software. Genealogy workshops that use Internet databases will also be held in the lab. When classes are not in session, patrons can use the computers to surf the Internet.

Related to computer usage is the new career center, a satellite of the existing career center at the Cuyahoga County Public Library system’s Maple Heights branch. Many jobs today must be applied for via the Internet, Wilkinson explained.

In addition to computer help, the career center will offer books on preparing cover letters and resumes. A career counselor will be on hand about 20 hours each week, Wilkinson said.

The most visually dramatic elements of the renovation project will likely be noticed by the library’s youngest users, as well as their parents. The new learning and play space has received the largest amount of compliments, Wilkinson told West Life.

“The new play area has been phenomenally popular,” she said. “There were a lot of ‘wows.’”

Books have been made more accessible to young children, Wilkinson explained, by stacking them so that the covers face the child, who can easily flip through the collection.

“Just like for adults, cover art is important for children,” she said.

Based on an aviation and travel theme, the play area was designed to help youngsters develop skills they will later use to be good students, said Sari Feldman, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.

The library’s teen area has also been updated and now includes a video game system that can be projected onto a Smart Board. The space was designed to encourage teens to “hang out” at the library.

“Today’s youth are the future library users,” Wilkinson explained.

The music CD collection has been moved upstairs to allow a larger area in which to feature the library’s recently purchased materials.

Subscriptions to some magazines have been canceled due to budgetary issues, Wilkinson explained. Magazines were evaluated based on popularity, she added.

The library’s new copiers allow color copies to be made. Faxes can be sent from the copiers for free, Wilkinson said.

Feldman said the Fairview Park branch renovations will offer patrons new services.

“The Fairview Park branch is a beautiful building and one we’re very, very proud of,” the executive director said of the 1997 structure.

The renovations at the branch are part of a larger capital plan that will enable the library system to save $4 million annually, Feldman said.

For example, the Fairview Park branch encourages patrons to take advantage of self-service checkout. This frees librarians to work on more sophisticated services, such as processing of passports, Feldman said.

“We’ve really had to free our staff from routine tasks,” she explained.

The system is spending $100 million over three years renovating nine branches and building six new branches to replace existing ones, including the Olmsted Falls branch.

No new taxes were required for the capital plan, Feldman explained. The projects are funded by $75 million of bonds the system sold in 2010. Bond debt is being paid out of the system’s operating funds. In addition, the system set aside $15 million and is raising an additional $10 million for capital projects.




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