Durham News

Renovations to shutter downtown Durham library for two years

Emily Van de Ven and her daughters Ruby and June pick out books at the downtown main library branch.
Emily Van de Ven and her daughters Ruby and June pick out books at the downtown main library branch. The Herald-Sun

This past week at the downtown Durham County Library, the main library of the seven-branch system, it was business as usual.

The banks of computers were filled with quiet users, headphones over ears. Visitors checked out books, asked the staff questions and perused the shelves.

Except for signs at every entrance, you wouldn’t have known that change was coming. The signs reminded visitors that Sunday, Jan. 15, the library closes for a two-year renovation that will be funded by the $44.3 million of the bond referendum Durham County voters passed in November.

A closer look inside the library reveals stickers on some furniture noting where a filing cabinet or bookcase is heading. The books collection will go to Duke University storage. Much of the North Carolina Collection will be moved to space in Northgate Mall. The library’s MakerLab, with STEAM activities, will also move to a new space at Northgate Mall.

The main branch’s 64 staff members will be dispersed to those spaces at Northgate or other Durham County Library branches, and some to the old Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau building downtown.

The 1980 main library surrounded by Roxboro, Liberty and Holloway streets will keep its foundation and basic structure. But in early 2019, a revamped library will open with modern appeal and a lot of glass compared to how it looks now.

Just one of the names on the 1980 dedication plaque just inside the first-floor entrance remains an elected official: Mayor Bill Bell, a Durham County commissioner then.

The library contents will be moved in phases, said Tammy Baggett, director of the Durham County Library system. “We’re so excited. It’s a lot of work ahead,” she said.

The foundation and structural beams will remain, as well as the parking area, but otherwise by 2019, the library “will be transformed, will be new.” Vines Architecture of Raleigh is the design team.

Aspects of the main library will still be downtown, with weekend computer hours set up at the Criminal Justice Resource Center on East Main Street and the bookmobile visiting more places.

“We’re really trying to build a library without walls,” said library spokeswoman Stephanie Bonestell, and continue the best they can with outreach.

Library staff are awaiting the go ahead from Durham County Commissioners to restore Friday hours to 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at branches, and to open the Stanford L. Warren branch on Sundays.

A moving company will ship the library’s collection on trucks to a Duke storage facility off Briggs Avenue. Other areas of the downtown library will be packed up one by one, with staff moving to new branches once their areas are packed up. Some furniture will go to other branches and office space.

Notice required

Elizabeth Shulman, the N.C. Collection librarian, said items in storage will be retrievable upon request with a few days’ notice once the N.C. Collection space is up and running at Northgate.

Both the N.C. Collection and the MakerLab will be in separate spaces at Northgate, with the collection accessible from an outside entrance, and the MakerLab from inside the mall.

Baggett expects the Northgate spaces to be ready to open in late March. March is also when all the moving of materials and personnel is expected to be complete, and other branch hours extended.

Shulman said she gets a lot of questions about the N.C. Collection, with many repeat researchers to the third floor collection room.

The collection’s maps and microfilm are all coming with her to the Northgate space, she said. The MakerLab at Northgate will offer children, teen and intergenerational programs as well as robotics. Beginner-level computer programming, electric circuitry and 3-D printers will be part of the STEAM program. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics.

Baggett said the MakerLab started at the downtown library in April has been a big hit, and taking it to Northgate will allow staff to provide services in a large space. Storytimes and tutoring will also be offered in the Northgate library space.

New event locations

During the renovation, major library events usually held in the downtown library auditorium will be moved to the South Regional and Southwest Regional libraries, as well as to the campuses of N.C. Central University and Duke and the Hayti Heritage Center, Baggett said

Ali Shoenfelt recently helped her 5-year-old check out books from the children’s section. She said she comes to the downtown library about twice a month, and will visit the North Regional and Southwest Regional libraries during the closure. Those are definitely out of the way, she said, but she is glad the library is being updated, and she voted for the bond referendum.

Shoenfelt expects the renovated library to be “just a nicer atmosphere, with more light and better aesthetics,” she said.

“This is something the community has deserved for a long time,” Baggett said. “When we reopen, we’ll get to show what we really are about – a library of the future. The downtown library should be a flagship for the system, and it will be,” she said.

Bonestell said they want to thank the “citizens of Durham for voting for the bond and allowing us to do this for them.”

Vaughan: 919-419-6563

By the numbers

Library Card Holders: 87,279

Visits by Public: 432,542

Materials Owned: 197,244

Public Use of Library Materials: 498,460

Computers for Public Use: 60

Library Computer Work Sessions Conducted by the Public: 95,101

North Carolina Collection: 17,199 Materials

Source: Durham County Library