Clyde Scoles, director of Toledo-Lucas County Library, isn't afraid to “borrow” a good idea or two.
When he got a chance to oversee renovations and additions to the landmark downtown library, he and advisers traveled far to tour other new and renovated libraries.
Between 1996 and 1999, they wandered over the Rockies to Vancouver, down the desert to San Antonio, and up the East Coast to Boston. They stayed closer to home, too, traveling to Columbus to survey entrance and exit doors, lighting, teen and children's areas, filing systems, and coffee bars. They took away ideas for check-out desks, contracts, security exits, elevator access, even a lighted marquee meant to glorify generous donors.
Library records show trips taken to Denver, Boston, Rochester, Washington, New York City, Portland, and Alexandria, Va. Mr. Scoles was most often accompanied by a deputy director or facilities superintendent, but occasionally members of the library board went along.
“We also saw many public libraries where library conferences were held, or we visited them on our own when we were on vacation,” Mr. Scoles said. “We corresponded with other library officials, traded ideas, just networked. Our architects also went out of town to survey other buildings, and shared their slides with us.”
Visits made during American Library Association conferences and on personal vacation trips included San Francisco, San Antonio, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Houston, Pittsburgh, Orlando, New Orleans, Seattle, and Atlanta.
“We got a lot of practical information from [other libraries,], asking them things like `If you had to do it again, what would you change?'” said Charlie Oswanski, superintendent for library facilities and operations. “It would be foolish to undertake a project of this scope without talking to a lot of other people first.”
All this travel got creative juices flowing, Mr. Scoles said, and when he strolled through the library's warehouses and basements, he was smitten with ideas on how to recycle and redesign old items into new.
“The Popular Library was one of mine,” Mr. Scoles said. “We put the best-sellers, popular videos, things like that, in a comfortable central section for a bookstorelike feel. It's an area where it's easy to just come in and sit down. The signs in there, they were in our warehouse for years, with that 1940's-style type. I brought them out and had them refurbished ... saying things like `Hot!' and `New!'”
“And the auditorium lamps. I saw them in storage, and I decided they should be used in some way. We worked with the architects and construction craftsmen and turned them upside down, added some detailing, and made coffee tables out of them. They're really remarkable. I hope they're not too much.”
Mr. Scoles said the Teen Library was inspired by focus groups of local teens, and the Young Adult section at Columbus Public Library. An idea for a “tribute board” that uses art to honor big donors at San Francisco Public Library was brought to Toledo and turned over to a local glass sculptor. In Toledo, contributors' names are etched onto glass chevrons and lit with optical fibers.
“I had a hand in just about everything,” Mr. Scoles said. “The lamps, the stuff they found in the basement, the children's room, security.... These front doors, they were made as a spare pair when the building went up. They were stored down in the basement, forgotten, and someone found them down there during this project. They're brand new aluminum - perfect - but they're 60 years old! I told them, `Get those in here, they're beautiful!'”
Even if other libraries' successes and mistakes helped make Toledo's downtown library a more useful place, the doors are a touch that makes this institution unique, he said. “I can't wait to see it all opened up and in use.”
And now that the main library renovation is almost done, other city libraries are calling on Toledo. “I just talked to Indianapolis, and Kansas City is calling a good bit, too,” Mr. Oswanski said. “They want to know who we hired first, what was the sequence we used, how we scheduled construction, what we did in the children's section. Now it's our turn to give advice.”