116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — A new and highly-anticipated Marion Public Library — a “community hub” and milestone in the revitalization of the city’s Uptown historic business district — opens next week following years of planning.
Marion has been operating without a permanent, fully-open library since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Then the August 2020 derecho tore through the city, closing the building for good and damaging about 20 percent of the material collection.
But now, after using multiple temporary locations and leasing a location on Seventh Avenue for the better part of two years, the library is almost ready to welcome the community to its new, permanent home starting Nov. 10.
“I think this library will be a model for all libraries in the future. It’s no longer a warehouse for books but an active place for all types of learning and backgrounds and socioeconomic levels and the library is a place where community happens,” Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said.
“Knowing how long it took for this building to come into reality, the plans over the last decade, knowing we’re in the center of Uptown, we’re right in the action,” Library Director Bill Carroll said of the historic business district, which last week marked the completion of a nearly $7 million Seventh Avenue streetscape project.
“The revitalization of Uptown is incredible to see and be a part of. We’re going to be a destination in this part of town.”
And now calls and emails to Carroll from residents asking when the building is opening have lessened since the opening date was announced a couple weeks ago.
“I stopped counting how many times I’ve been asked the question of when we’re opening,” Carroll said. “I’ve had many emails, phone calls and stops while grocery shopping at Hy-Vee. I think there’s a really high level of anticipation.”
The Gazette toured the new building last week in advance of its opening. When its future patrons walk in, they will be greeted by floor-to-ceiling windows all along the building, making it feel bright and open. The first floor includes a large community room with a demonstration kitchen for meetings, classes and other programming. The main level also features a new and popular book section, with a reading area that includes a double-sided fireplace.
“It’s supposed to be a second living room,” Carroll said of the space’s design. “I think people are going to be proud to call this their library.”
The library also has some new services including a drive-through window and, for the first time ever, the library will be offering vinyl records and portable turntables for check out.
The east side of the first floor is for the kids. Along with children’s materials on shorter shelves, there are computer desks with child-enclosure stations so parents with younger children who need to use a computer can place the kids in a playpen space right there.
“In my career, I’ve seen many parents holding a child while working on the computer,” Carroll said. “Now, they can set their child down in this cushioned space.”
The children’s area also includes a “baby garden,” a space set aside for infants to socialize, and next to that is an interactive playground area that includes a giant Lite-Brite, a play kitchen and a play structure complete with a tube slide. There is also a children’s programming room.
The interactive playground area will be named after Nancy Miller, who was the namesake of the old library. Miller is an ex officio member of the library’s board and a primary donor to the now-closed 1996 library building.
“We’re not the library of yesteryear. We’re not going to shush you,” Carroll said. “It’s a community hub for all members of our community. We will have our quiet places and study rooms, but it’s important also to invite people of all ages. It’s difficult to get people to be lifelong readers, so we want to nurture that for their entire life with these spaces.”
Both floors of the new library have multiple study and conference rooms available for reservation, complete with screens for interviews or meetings.
The second floor includes most of the materials for adults on one end and a teen section on the opposite end.
Carroll said the material collection still is recovering from the derecho, but the library has added almost 15,000 new materials.
“We’re still recovering. We’re probably between 5,000 and 10,000 volumes fewer than pre-derecho, but that’s something we’re adding back over time as budget permits,” Carroll said.
The materials are all located next to the outdoor patio which also includes a dual-sided fireplace.
“We suspect the public will love this space,” Carroll said. “We will also be able to do outdoor programming and the long-term plan is to get grant funding to set up a small greenhouse out here.”
The second floor also includes a recording studio and green-screen room for video production, but the green-screen room will not be ready by Nov. 10 opening. There also is a “maker space” room that includes 3D printers, laser etchers and other machines for creating.
Carroll said it’s the teen area he is most proud of.
“We’re hoping the kids come in knowing they’re welcome and that it’s safe after school and on weekends. It probably won’t hurt that we will have snacks as well,” he said.
The space has many places to sit, study and hang out as well as video game consoles including an Xbox Series S and PlayStation 5.
Carroll said the pandemic and derecho provided the opportunity for the Marion library to reinvent itself and come back at a new level.
“It’s given us the opportunity to think outside of the box,” Carroll said. “Public libraries have been reinventing themselves for thousands of years and we’re in a new period. Libraries are not only for getting materials. We are a community hub to connect patrons to as many resources as we can.”
The project is under its initial $18 million cost. The funding comes from a $3.3 million fundraising campaign, $5 million in local-option sales tax funding, $3 million in property damage insurance and the sale of the current site, $6 million in bonding and $1 million in tax increment financing.
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