A 21st Century Library: Spokane Reopens Downtown Central Library After Two Years

After more than two years of renovations, the downtown public library reopened on Monday with a new name and a new look.

The recently reopened building, now the Central Library, adds an array of new media arts studios, event spaces and a cafe, among other services not previously available at the downtown library.

“This is a great day for Spokane and a great day for the downtown environment,” Mayor Nadine Woodward told a crowd gathered on Spokane Falls Boulevard for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This revitalized space is truly a 21st century library and will be an asset to anyone who lives, works and recreates downtown.”

The renovation cost $33 million and was funded by a $77 million bond approved by voters in 2018 to renovate and rebuild Spokane’s libraries and add a new one, though plans were underway as soon as 2015. The Downtown Library moved to the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza during the two-year renovation.

“Libraries have been around for thousands of years and they are the hallmark of a great city. A great library is what makes a great city,” City Council Speaker Breean Beggs said Monday. “What I like about our library is that, for a few years now, it’s been a place where everyone comes. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. Whether you have accommodation. How rich you are. What is your immigration status. Your age. It is the place where everyone has access to knowledge and culture.

The Central Library is no longer just a quiet place for books, said Downtown Spokane President and CEO Emilie Cameron.

“It’s a state-of-the-art facility that brings our community together and exceeds expectations,” she said.

Hundreds of people escaped the hot summer morning to tour the renovations inside the library after the groundbreaking ceremony.

Without adding to the building’s pre-existing 117,000 square feet, the designers expanded the library’s public space by a third, said David Schnee, principal of Group 4, the architectural firm responsible for the redesign.

The biggest changes are on the first floor, where the library’s office space has been transformed to include a public area with tables and seating as well as the New Leaf Cafe, a Transitions program that provides job training women who face barriers to employment. The first floor also includes a computer lab, business lab, art studio, and two event spaces, the latter of which are already occupied for children’s story time on Monday mornings.

A “social staircase”, fitted with sockets and designed for people to sit on, connects the first and second floors.

The second floor features the library’s collections, a Spokane River-themed children’s play area nicknamed “River Rumpus”, and several study rooms.

The third floor includes nxwyxwyetkw Hall (pronounced inn-whi-whi-ettk, Salish for “Life in the Water”) for events like Lilac City Live, as well as a music studio, audio studio and a video production studio.

Originally built in 1994, the building is just one example of libraries pivoting to provide their communities with a wider range of media and resources that would otherwise be considered “high-barrier activities,” said Amanda Donovan, director of marketing and communications for the Spokane Public Library.

“It creates so many opportunities to make Spokane a forward-thinking city,” she said. “We have such a beautiful place here, and here are some opportunities for people to learn and grow in our own city.”

The various media studios were favorites with visitors on Monday, Donovan said.

“I’ve never seen this before in a library,” Kevin Mulryne said of the studios as he toured the library. “It’s right there and you can do it for free.”

Judy Rowe said the renovation was “just amazing”.

“I’ve been going to the library for over 60 years and seeing this transformation…computers, all the multimedia, it’s absolutely amazing,” she said. “And they still have books.”

Books don’t go away, Donavan said, “we’re just adding and evolving to what we offer in the library.”

“It’s just surreal to see everyone here,” Donavan said. “People are blown away because they didn’t know what to expect.”

After Monday’s reopening, “tomorrow is business as usual,” she said.

David H. Henry