A first look inside the newly renovated downtown Spokane library

SPOKANE, Wash. — In just a few days, book-lovers and the community can walk into a newly renovated downtown central library.

The $33 million renovation project took a little more than two years to complete. This comes from a $77 million bond voters passed in 2018 to renovate four libraries and build three new ones.

Amanda Donovan, the director of marketing and communication for the Spokane Public Library, says the downtown library renovation finished just a few months behind schedule.

The exteriors of the downtown library were mostly kept the same. However, the inside is completely transformed. Donovan said they upgraded carpets, the HVAC systems and more.

“It’s almost hard to remember what it looked like,” Donovan said.

The downtown library consists of three different floors, with each of them serving different purposes.

First floor

The first floor of the library consists of open space for people to lounge around, mostly large meeting rooms as well as a computer lab and business lab.

“The business lab is our entrepreneurial center. We have a business services librarian who is an expert in all things setting up a new business in Spokane,” Donovan said.

The first floor will also have the New Leaf Cafe, which is run by the nonprofit Transitions. The women who work there have faced barriers in employment.

“The cafe is a really fun addition to the library. Now, you can stop in, get a cup of coffee, browse the books, hang out and read,” Donovan said.

The new renovations include a second staircase in the middle of the first floor. People can admire the open atrium featuring artwork, too, as they walk up.

Second floor

The second floor is where people would find a more traditional library. That is where all the books, magazines, DVDs and more are sitting. The first floor only had a wall of books sold by the nonprofit Friends of Library.

The second floor also has several different private study areas, open and enclosed. People can reserve five different study rooms to use for free.

“There are the private study rooms, quiet nooks around the library where you can get work done and put headphones on and focus,” Donovan said.

Also featured on the second floor: an area for teens and a play area for kids. The little playground is called the River Rumpus, “a whimsical take under the Spokane River.” Garbage goat is the mascot and there are stickers of the goat scuba diving. There is also a slide in the play area that comes out of an upside-down Monroe Street Bridge.

When voters were asked what they wanted with the new libraries, Donovan said the number one ask was to improve children’s areas, which she felt they delivered.

Leading up to the third floor, there is what’s called a social stair that is connected to regular stairs. The social stairs allow people to hang out there and socialize and provide plenty of outlets.

“Things have changed. Of course, we’ll always have books. We’ll always have materials,” Donovan said of the library turning more into a gathering place instead of a traditionally quiet building. “People will always need access to those sorts of resources, but now people are looking for places to gather, places to connect, places to use technology or even charge your phone or to work at a computer or at a table that has power.”

Third floor

Like the first two floors, the third also has different sections for various reasons. One part of the third floor allows people to get their creative juices flowing in a media studio.

There are separate rooms people can book to record a podcast or even an album. There are sound-proof rooms and a window where musicians can see other members of their band. There is also a room that helps people learn how to produce video, providing card-holders with video-recording equipment as well as a green screen.

“That’s a really exciting and innovative space for libraries,” Donovan said. She added that people can reserve and talk with media specialists or book time with a music teacher to learn all sorts of instruments that can be rented, too.

There’s another section of the third floor called the Inland Northwest Special Collections, where the library holds old documents and artifacts from the Inland Northwest.

People can come there and read about the history of the area, which Donovan said Spokane-based author Jess Walter used for his recent national bestseller The Cold Millions.

Just on the other side of the staircase, there is a large event space that can be booked, seating up to 300 people.

While there’s a lot going on now at the downtown library, the goal, Donovan said, is to give people a place to gather, study or read.

“It’s so exciting to finally reach this point to open our doors to citizens,” she said.

A grand reopening ceremony will take place on Monday, July 11 starting at 9 a.m. Donovan said there will be tours, music and food trucks for people to get familiar with the renovated library.

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