The Sitka Assembly unanimously approved the latest design for the expansion of Kettleson Memorial Library, at their regular meeting on Tuesday night (12-10-13).

In a work session before the meeting, the assembly heard from library director Sarah Bell, and from Paul Voelckers of MRV Architects in Juneau, which is designing the renovation. Bell said the new building is being designed to accommodate the changing role of libraries in the 21st century.

“I think what libraries are evolving to, is somewhat of a community center,” Bell said. “It’s a place where people can come and share what they consider important.”

To that end, the new design features two folding walls that would allow the library to open up the full space for large events or curtain off separate, nearly sound-proof rooms to allow multiple smaller gatherings, like classes or meetings, to take place at once.

And despite a 60 percent expansion, the library will have about the same amount of shelf-space for books – or even less than it currently has. Bell and Voelckers said that as people increasingly access nonfiction, research and reference materials online, libraries are focusing their physical collections on things like fiction. In an exchange with assembly member Phyllis Hackett, Bell said that maintaining a physical collection of books is no longer the library’s sole mission:

BELL So we are cleaning the collection right now, we are weeding that collection.

HACKETT Is there room in this design to add more stacks if need be?

BELL Well, that’s not the direction libraries are headed.

The new design includes a separate room for computers and technology, and an expanded teen section, removed from the children’s area and separated from the main space by a glass wall. This is architect Paul Voelckers.

“Teen population library use is a key growing element that libraries everywhere are experiencing,” Voelckers said. “A lot of collaborative school projects, socialization, all of those kinds of things have really pushed teen use of public libraries, so it’s a nice phenomenon.”

But, Bell said, Kettleson also must continue to serve a large constituency of older users who like the traditional library experience.

“Not everybody wants to download to a kindle or a computer,” Bell said. “Maybe they like their cds. So we try to meet all those needs. You can download audio books and e-books through Kettleson, through the state library, and you can come in and use computers if you so desire. But you can also come in and pick up a magazine or a newspaper.”

Voelckers said the building will be modern in another way, as well – when finished, it should be the most energy efficient building in town.

The library has over $6 million on hand for the project  – $5.7 million from the state, and $450,000 in donations and fundraising. It’s still hoping to raise another $265,000 to cover additional features including the second folding wall, outdoor landscaping, and better interior carpeting and furniture.

Voelckers said he expects to have a final design ready by May, with construction to begin in August, 2014. Public works director Michael Harmon said the goal is to finish construction on the library before construction on the Centennial Building begins in 2015.