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Downtown Businesses, Interviews, Photo Essay

On Books and Light: A Sneak Peek Into The New Washington Library

It’s been almost a year since the Washington Public Library has been relocated to make room for the new expansion. Everybody in town is excited to know what would the new library look like, including the staff. I met up with library Director, Nell Redhage, in her temporary office to get all the inside scoop.

Nell, amidst pipes and plumbing in the basement of the temporary library building, excited to move into her new office in a few weeks.

How long has the Washington Public Library existed? Why was the new expansion needed?

The library was first set up of a community of volunteers, women from PEO Chapter CD. When it started to expand, they turned it over to the City of Washington to become a municipal library in 1924. It was first housed in a spare room in City Hall. When it outgrew that, it was given an adjoining room to use as a space for reading. Eventually, it outgrew those two rooms and in 1936 it was moved to the second floor of City Hall. The collection of books kept expanding, and in 1980 the library was moved to its current space in then the new Municipal Complex Building. History repeats itself and the library has outgrown its space again, that’s why the expansion was needed.

The new library expansion, as envisioned by Horn Architects. The entrance of the new library is now on Lafayette Street, offering more accessible parking spaces.

Did you ever consider moving the library to a new location?

We wanted to stay downtown, because a lot of people walk to the library. The building is in a wonderful location, it serves as the gateway to historic downtown and it is an integral part of the municipal complex.  We are happy that we were able to expand our space without having to move to a different building altogether.

Although with a reduced capacity at its temporary location, the Washington Public Library continues to service young and old alike.

Is it difficult for a library to survive these days? 

It wouldn’t be easy if the library had to rely solely on its own funds. The City of Washington is great for supporting the library, they have taken us under their wing as a department of the City. Not every municipal library in the state of Missouri is so lucky. The community in Washington values the importance of education. Thanks to cooperative service agreement with the Scenic Regional Library System, we are able to offer free library services to residents of Franklin, Warren, and Gasconade counties. We service all ages, from birth to old age, 7 days a week, 70 hours per week, 364 days a year. Remote access to our card catalog and electronic databases is available 24/7.

Keeping in tune with the times, the Library also has computers with wireless Internet for everybody to use. Did you know that apart from books, you can rent DVDs, too?

 What are some of the survives the Library provides?

In addition to print and online materials, we provide year round programs for children and adults, audio-visual materials, public computers with print capabilities, free wireless Internet access, copy and FAX service, and a free meeting room for non-profit groups. We are also a Passport Agency. The library hosts over 120 children’s and teen programs a year. Every Tuesday and Wednesday we have Story time with children’s librarian Ruth McInnis. On an average day the Library welcomes 343 visitors, 66 computer users, and circulates 586 items. That equates to 120,000 visitors a year, 23,400 computer users, and 188,000 circulated items. Surprised? Most people are 🙂

One of the reasons the new library expansion was so needed, is that the space between the rows of shelves was too narrow for people to browse back to back in the same row. Shelving and display units were so close together, making it nearly impossible for wheelchairs to maneuver in the stacks.

Please, tell us more about the new library expansion. When are you expected to reopen?

We are very excited about the renovation. By February 15 we expect the substantial completion of the construction work. Until the end of February the construction company will make sure that everything works properly and it will finish with the touch up work. In the beginning of March the new shelving will be installed, and the furniture suppliers will follow. We are hoping to start moving books back around March 12. Then the library will be closed for two full weeks, until we reopen in the newly renovated building on April 2nd. The Grand Opening for the public is scheduled for April 15.

The new library expansion project is almost complete. The building looks wonderful on the outside. Horn Architects from Washington, MO and FEH Associates from Des Moines, IA joined forces and come up with the beautiful design. Demien Construction Co. is responsible for the execution of the project.

What are some of the new features the renovated Library boasts with?

We are going to have a lot more space, because the library will be using both floors. The entire lower level, that was previously vacant, now is connected to the upper floor via a beautiful staircase and an elevator. The lower level will host the children’s books and activities, as well as the offices for the staff. We will be able to comfortably accommodate more children for Story Time, and also host a variety of programs.

The brand new staircase that connects the lower with the upper level of the library. The design is such, that it also allows a lot of natural light to flood the downstairs.

We are going to have a much larger meeting room downstairs, which non-profit organizations will be able to utilize for their meetings. It will have an easy outside access, so it can be used even after hours when the library is closed. The new library will have a lot more space for seating, leisure reading and writing.

The spacious lower level nearly doubles the library's size, making it able to accommodate the needs of Washington's growing population.

Something the Library didn’t have before, will be our gallery space. There are two walls designated for small exhibits. We will also have some display cases, which can be reserved by people who do pottery and crafts. Different artists will rotate every month, giving a chance for everybody in the community to showcase their work.

The now blank gallery wall at the Library, will showcase different artists every month.

The whole upstairs will be reserved for teens and adults, with tables and chairs by the windows for leisure reading. We will have a lot more room for computers, 8 computers for teens and 18 for adults. Our patrons and tutors who use the library have requested some quite study rooms, which we have added on the upper level. One room will be able to comfortably accommodate a study group of 6, and the other, two students or a student with a tutor. With the new available space, we are hoping to host a variety of adult programs such as computer classes, crafts, health-related seminars, or financial talks.

The two new study rooms on the upper level will provide a quiet study environment for students and tutors.

The Friends of the Library organization will have their own room downstairs, where they can meet and collect books for their annual Book sale. The staff will have a clean and convenient break room that even has a window. We are also excited about the new family friendly restrooms. Throughout the years the materials in the library have been accumulating, while the space remained the same. The expansion was much needed, not only to make our work easier, but also to give us the opportunity to serve the public better.

Nell, in front of the door of her new office. No more plumbing pipes and cold basement walls.

Something old and something new. The old front desk, looking better than ever, is still standing in the completely renovated Library building. The line in the concrete floor is where the old structure and the new expansion meet.

The new Library also boasts with a riverfront view.

Last, but not least, we shouldn’t neglect the changes outside. When we talk about space needs, one of the most frequent complaints we used to get from library patrons, was that we need more parking. Our old parking lot had only 13 parking spaces, two of which were Handicap. The uphill climb from the back parking lot to the old front of the library was hard for senior citizens and could be treacherous in icy/snowy conditions. However, with our new entrance on Lafayette street we have a much bigger and easily accessible parking lot, adjoining the one of City Hall. The old parking lot that is now on the back of the building will be for staff members. Another thing we gained by the expansion, is a small outdoor space to use for children’s programs and activities.

With its new entrance on Lafayette Street, the newly renovated Library gains more and better parking spaces.

Children's activities can safely be contained in this outdoor space, giving the Library the opportunity to host animal or outdoor-related programs.

 What are your plans for the big move back into the newly renovated Library?

I would like to use the opportunity to thank our wonderful volunteers, who helped us move into the temporary building. For the last year we haven’t been able to use their services as much, due to the lack of space and accessibility. However, at the end of March we will need many helping hands, and as soon as we resume our normal activities, volunteers will be more than welcome to come and stock shelves or arrange books. Everybody will be able to enjoy and utilize the new library space. We are looking forward to the Grand Opening when we will invite the community to come and tour the new Library. We would like to thank everybody for their support and we hope to be able to provide even better service than before.

Nell, in front of the elevator that connects the lower with the upper level. It's all about having a vision and making knowledge accessible to all.


A good book has no ending.  ~R.D. Cumming

The Library hours are as follows: Monday-Thursday 8 a.m.-8 p.m; Friday 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday Noon-4 p.m. The library will be closed Monday, February 20 in honor of President’s Day. To find out more about the Washington Public Library, click here. For more information about the Friends of the Library program, click here. To browse through the extensive library catalog, click here.

About Slava

I am a twenty-something Bulgarian girl in the USA, re-discovering the world through the lens.


6 Responses to “On Books and Light: A Sneak Peek Into The New Washington Library”

  1. wonderful!! Can’t wait Slava. Great story. thanks for what you are doingl

    Posted by sandi mcdonald | January 29, 2012, 3:04 pm
  2. How exciting! Makes one proud to be a Washingtonian!!

    Posted by Betty Rademaker | February 2, 2012, 4:27 pm
  3. I can’t wait to see it in person, sounds like a great change!

    Posted by Joni Obermark | February 4, 2012, 7:22 am
  4. I’m curious: what is the PEO Chapter CD?

    Posted by Julia | June 22, 2013, 10:10 am

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