CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Already downsized in design plans once, a new public library building in Charleston might need to be even smaller than 120,000 square feet so it can fit 21st Century needs, a consultant said Monday night.
Public libraries have gone through an evolution in the past 20 years, which officials want to see in the Kanawha County Public Library's proposed new main library.
Laura Isenstein, president of Providence Associates, a library-consulting firm, said public libraries today "are the center for 21st century skills."
The "cultural hubs," she said, give communities free access to technologies that may not be available in their own homes. Access to computers and software, the Internet -- which aids in workforce development -- and meeting spaces are all available to the public for free, Isenstein said.
New features such as automated book returns and self-checkout stands are incorporated in many of today's newest libraries. E-book readers and makerspaces -- areas where library visitors can use multimedia content to compose music or write a book -- are some of the innovations that libraries have now, Isenstein said.
Isenstein and other Providence Associates staff spoke to more than 50 people Monday during an informational meeting hosted at Laidley Tower in Charleston. The library-consulting firm provided guidance about the library's building plans.
Plans for the new main library building were first drawn up in 2002. The building was scaled down once, from 140,000-square-feet to 120,000-square-feet, both to reduce cost and to make more efficient use of land as it became available near the Clay Center on Leon Sullivan Way.
Isenstein said that because so much of the new main library is being digitized, it might need to be even smaller.
The new main library would provide the tools and resources necessary to meet the technological needs of the Kanawha County community, Isenstein said.
"While books are the collaborative consumption of libraries, today it is technology. It's helping parents to work with children at an early age and teens and their world with social media to become content creators," Isenstein said. "Technology is so much a part of how our kids learn and libraries have a role in that."
Libraries are places people want to be because they provide something for everyone, Isenstein said, adding that they serve as the heart of a community.
She said providing digitally equipped conference rooms and spaces that are adaptable are key to meeting a community's needs.
"Great cities have great libraries," Isenstein said, "but the [existing main Kanawha County Public] library has served its purpose. The library here has some challenges in its space, let alone technology, to be a 21st century library."
One limitation of the current library is how the layout is "chopped up," Isenstein said.
The building -- which was finished in 1904 -- is extremely inefficient and costly to operate -- more than a brand new building would cost to operate, she said.
"Do you know the technologies and improvements that have been made in lighting ... plumbing since then?" Isenstein asked the group. "It is not a building that can be changed to reflect what you need in the 21st century."