Metro December 19, 2018

Boise’s Library Grows Up, and Out

The new design addresses emerging library trends
Since the 1970s, Boise’s children and adults have wandered the tall orange shelves throughout the main library downtown. The building was converted from a warehouse in the 1940s, and little about it has changed since then. Though it has three stories filled with books and 78,000 square feet, the space is the same size it was when Boise was half the size it is today. The same is true of its technological infrastructure.
That’s why the city is working toward building a new main library downtown that would increase the space to 150,000 square feet, with 115,000 square feet of that space devoted to the library itself, along with 20,000 square feet for a plaza, 22,000 square feet for a center for arts and history, and 18,000 square feet for potential events. The space would also more than double the number of parking spots from 102 to 300. The project is estimated to cost $80 to $85 million, and initial design is underway.

“The Main Library’s current building isn’t suited to respond to emerging library trends or the needs of Boise’s rapidly growing population,” said Kevin Booe, director of the Boise Library. “The 21st century library is not only a place for knowledge acquisition, but also for knowledge application, creating demand for more adaptable spaces, including collaborative meeting rooms, makerspaces [communal creativity spaces], and emerging technologies.”

While some might argue libraries are a thing of the past in the digital age, a 2017 Pew Research Center survey found 53 percent of those in the “Millennial” age range—18 to 35—said they used a library or bookmobile in the past year. They were also more likely to have used web resources at libraries. According to the library’s plans, libraries have become an essential community service that provide career assistance, resources for small businesses, Internet access, public meeting rooms, classes and programs that allow people to acquire and enhance their knowledge.

The main library would include a “gathering space” connecting each part of the overall area with shared café, retail, and programming opportunities. It would also include an updated automated storage and retrieval system—something akin to an Amazon warehouse with a robot claw that will retrieve items from shelves upon request. The system would expand the library’s collection using less space.

Along with new technology and space, the library would include a dedicated space for a Center for Arts & History, which is something Boise has never had before. The center would be the new home for the Boise City Department of Arts & History, which is currently located in City Hall.

Terri Schorzman, director of the Department of Arts & History, said the department ran an event during Boise’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2013 at a location on Main Street that was well received at the time. Since then, Schorzman and her staff have hoped to find a more established home.

“Since that was so successful, we have been looking consistently for a place, whether it was city owned or not,” Schorzman said. “We just never found the right spot, and the library director was moving toward this new library and proposed (the idea) to us. So we looked at it and said, ‘Maybe it makes good sense to partner up with them.’”

The center would have rotating exhibits, Schorzman said, in addition to the department’s current public art programs and other offerings. She said the department is excited about the partnership and future with the library.

“It’s really synergistic. We’re all about furthering lifelong learning and education and understanding where you live and how and why it came to be,” she said. “People coming to the library can do further exploration through engagement and lectures and programs we offer. I just think it’s a really synergistic opportunity the way we fit together.”

The library director and other leadership will spearhead most of the capital campaign to raise $18 million in philanthropic donations for the overall project. The rest of the financing will come from the Capital City Development Corporation, the city of Boise, and lease financing. The target date for opening the new library is 2021.

This article appears in the Winter 2018 Issue of Territory Magazine.