Library is open invitation to discovery

When public explores facility, it will find far more than shelves of books

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter



If you go

What: The grand opening of the new Vancouver Community Library, featuring an outdoor ceremony, self-guided tours, light refreshments and an appearance by the library’s costumed mascot, Sophie the Otter.

When: 1-6 p.m. July 17. The doors will open around 1:45, following the ceremony.

Where: 901 C. St., Vancouver.

Cost: Free.

Information:, 360-695-1566.

Library hours

Starting July 18, the new Vancouver Community Library will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Getting to know the new library

Here's a list of floor-by-floor highlights to help patrons navigate the new Vancouver Community Library.

First floor: A four-story “Knowledge Wall,” Computer Commons, the classroom, Teen Central, the Friends of the Library Booknook, DVDs, magazines, newspapers, the Atrium Coffee Corner, the Columbia Room (one of three community rooms that the public can rent for meetings and private events), returns, holds and account services.

Second floor: Administration and staff work area.

Third floor (children’s floor geared toward those 12 and under): Early Learning Center, as well as children’s books, audio books, magazines, DVDs, computers and programming, and a “tween” area for pre-teens.

Fourth floor: Nonfiction, reference materials, world languages, help desk, research databases, study area and the Klickitat and Skamania community rooms.

Fifth floor: Fiction, large-print books, audio books, biographies, the Vancouver Room, the terrace and the “River of Knowledge.”

Nearly two years after construction began on the new Vancouver Community Library, the 83,000-square-foot, $38 million facility will open its doors to the public on July 17.

Following an outdoor opening ceremony featuring library leadership, as well as local and state elected officials and other guests, the public will be invited to explore the five-story glass, concrete, steel, terra-cotta and wood structure, which was designed by Vancouver native Adin Dunning of the Seattle architecture firm Miller Hull Partnership.

Some people have already gotten to tour the library, and the response has been very positive, according to Fort Vancouver Regional Library District Executive Director Bruce Ziegman.

“People are invariably thrilled. It’s a wonderful public space,” he said.

The library was paid for by a $33 million library facilities bond that Vancouver voters approved in 2006 and a $5 million donation that until now has been anonymous. The donor will be making his or her identity known at the grand opening. The land for the library was donated by Killian Pacific.

The new library has more than twice the public space as the 48-year-old main branch at 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd. The new library also has 69 Internet computers for patrons’ use, compared to 16 at the old library, three community meeting rooms instead of one, and room for 385,000 books instead of 285,000.

The administrative offices will remain at the old library building. The library will be able to consolidate its offices and will no longer need to lease additional space, Ziegman said.

The new library was designed with a number of energy-efficient features, and is projected to achieve LEED Gold certification. The library heats and cools from the floor instead of the ceiling, exterior shading helps reduce heat gain, lights are on timers, and the multitude of windows capitalizes on natural light to reduce electric light usage.

Beyond its size and green design, several other features set the new library apart. An approximately 4,000-square-foot terrace offers views of Mount Hood and the Columbia River. Teen Central, an area on the first floor for young adults, offers several different video game consoles and a drop-down screen for movies and gaming, in addition to a computer bar, study tables, books and magazines.

The third floor is geared toward children ages 12 and younger. It’s 16,000 square feet, compared to the 2,500 square feet of space dedicated to kids at the old library.

Colorful lights embedded in the floor draw youths into the space, which includes an approximately 4,000-square-foot Early Learning Center that feels almost like a children’s museum. The Early Learning Center is designed for kids ages birth to 5 years and their parents. The idea behind it is that children learn through play.

“It’s a place truly designed for self-discovery and for parents and their kids to discover together,” Ziegman said.

The center includes an “ice cave,” where kids can sit and read or listen to a story beneath a depiction of constellations. There also are a pretend cafe, a weather tower and a magnet wall, among other areas to explore.

Something adults might find interesting is the automated materials handling system, which makes it faster for library personnel to check-in and sort books and other items. The system is located on the second floor, an administrative and staff work area. This floor is typically closed to the public, but people can come look at the automated handling system during the July 17 grand opening.

On the fifth floor, patrons will find the Vancouver Room, a reading area with a gas fireplace and display cases featuring items from Joyo, Japan, Vancouver’s sister city.

Also on the fifth floor is “River of Knowledge,” a mixed-media triptych by Ridgefield artist Jennifer Williams.

The piece was made possible by a gift to the library from the late Jerry King, a former city attorney and longtime Fort Vancouver Regional Library District supporter.

King was a devotee of Walt Whitman, so Williams worked text from some of the poet’s writings into her piece as collage material. She also incorporated notes handwritten by King.

These elements are hard to see unless people stand close to the piece and really look for them.

“There are a lot of symbolism and hidden things,” Williams said. “I think people are going to find different things each time they look at it.”

Like Williams’ painting, the library itself offers continual opportunities for exploration. The need for the library to remain a place of discovery long into the future was one of the top priorities for Dunning when designing the structure.

“It has to work today, and it has to work 50 years from now. It has to be flexible,” he said.

Mary Ann Albright:, 360-735-4507.