Richmond Public Library’s main branch goes through overhaul in way space is used

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 7/19/2019, 6 a.m.
“We’re shaking off the dust,” said Scott Firestine, director of the Richmond Public Library. That’s his description of the changes ...
Scott Firestine, director of the Richmond Public Library, stands in the new children’s area at the Main Library in Downtown that includes computers for young patrons and their parents to use. The glassed-in area behind Mr. Firestine contains the new innovation center that is equipped with a 3D scanner, printer and other modern technology, which are among multiple changes happening inside the building at 101 E. Franklin St. Photo by Regina H. Boone

“We’re shaking off the dust,” said Scott Firestine, director of the Richmond Public Library.

That’s his description of the changes sweeping through the Main Library in Downtown.

Along with halting fines on materials that children and youths borrow and expanding distribution of library cards to provide physical and online access to books and materials, Mr. Firestine is leading an overhaul of the way the space is used in the building.

On the first floor, the change includes the relocation of the children’s area to a far bigger space on the Main Street side of the main reading room; expansion of the area for teens by moving out bookcases filled with nonfiction items; and the creation of a public innovation center that allows patrons to learn how to use a 3D scanner and printer, a fabric printer and virtual reality equipment in a former reference space.

The second floor reading room also is now dominated by public use computers, with the stacks of magazines that once filled an array of shelves moved to the basement. Current editions of magazines are limited to built-in holders along two walls. The revamp is aimed at making the space livelier, more open and more attractive to patrons, Mr. Firestine said.

At a time when people can get books and music on their cell phones and find much of the information they need on the internet, libraries are being challenged to find ways to remain relevant, he said.

“We needed to rethink how we present ourselves,” he said.

Patrons also have been urging change, he added, citing the modern facilities and range of offerings at libraries in Henrico and Chesterfield counties. The Richmond library already has invested in technology and made it simple to access and borrow online without charge music, videos, movies and other items. Mr. Firestine noted that if all goes well, by end of the year the library should be able to upgrade the computer catalog to make it easier for people to find, check out and renew materials using a phone app.

In June, the library also ushered in a fine-free program for patrons 18 and younger. “No matter when they bring the items back, they can borrow more and not face a fine,” Mr. Firestine said.

But just as important, Mr. Firestine said, has been the makeover of the Main Library’s physical space. Located at 101 E. Franklin St., the Main Branch is actually two buildings — the original Dooley Library that opened in 1932 and the larger addition on the east side that opened in 1972. One big step has been to open up the space in the 1972 addition. That includes clearing out many of the big bookcases. While the mystery and fiction bookcases still fill the Franklin Street side of the room, the bookcases with nonfiction items on the 1st Street side are gone, helping to create a larger, more open sunlit area for teens and children. A couple of shelves that feature new books and other items are all that remain.