Palo Alto's Newell Road library has held a secret for decades: a soaring brick fireplace. It's been hidden behind the stacks in the middle of the main room, according to Monique le Conge Ziesenhenne, the city's library director.
The freestanding fireplace is one of many surprises library patrons will find in the renovated Palo Alto Main Library now renamed the Rinconada Library. Rinconada's completion marks the conclusion of Palo Alto's library-renovation spree, in which the city overhauled four of its libraries and rebuilt its fifth, Mitchell Park. Measure N, a $76 million bond measure approved by voters in 2008, paid for Rinconada, the Downtown Library and the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center. The Children's Library and College Terrace upgrades were paid for by both city and community funds.
Rinconada's $18 million makeover, taking the facility from a dated 1950s look to a heritage gem with a contemporary twist, will be officially unveiled Saturday, Feb. 14, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Its Valentine's Day-opening theme, "Love your library past, present and future," reflects where the library has been, where it is now, and what the library can potentially become, said Eric Howard, assistant library director, during a recent tour of the branch.
The updated library fits into the current trend of how libraries are being reinvented as information hubs offering knowledge in a variety of formats while being true community spaces.
Rinconada has maintained its historical elements while updating its usefulness. Now there are four group-study rooms equipped for electronic devices; two outdoor patios with bistro-style furniture for plein-air reading; a conference room that doubles as a space for teen programs, such as makeX workshops, study groups or meetings; a special teen space; and a community room overlooking the library's heritage redwood grove and community gardens.
Gone are the impersonal tables stuck in the middle of the room, surrounded by walls of aging book collections bearing a certain library smell. The furnishings have been replaced by padded seating with attached, swivel laptop tables arranged as if in a salon. A bank of windows and LED lamps infuse the space with light.
Books are still there, framed by redwood-clad bookcases, but now there are warm-toned kiosks displaying new books in bookstore style. There are double the number of computers 31 Wi-Fi for Internet access, televisions in the study and conference rooms, and streaming video and e-books.
Standing in the new 3,000-plus-square-foot lobby that serves as a quiet space and additional event location, Howard admired the light streaming in from the skylight roof.
"It is the space that attracts people," he said.
Howard and Ziesenhenne have high expectations for Rinconada's popularity.
"It's the warmest library we have," she said of the ambiance.
In some ways, the makeover returns to the original intent of founding architect Edward Durell Stone in 1958. A photograph from the Palo Alto Historical Association taken that year shows a reading room that once had the air of a '50s modern living room, with sleek, black vinyl sofas and a circular central table. Today, the living-room ambiance has been restored with colorful padded chairs, coffee- and end-tables and rolling laptop carts. The original clock on the chimney and black metal chandelier remain.
Ziesenhenne and Howard are banking on teens flocking to the cozy lounge chairs with flip-out leg rests in the new Teen Zone, which was designed in consultation with teens.
Kids can do research on a bank of computers, read books geared toward their interests, use their laptops or gather with friends for study or conversation in the meeting room.
A new 3,716-square-foot wing is suffused with light, which includes the skylight lobby and the Embarcadero Room, which is outfitted with a kitchen and the technology needed for presentations. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the landscaped grounds, including a 100-year-old camellia tree, redwood grove and sculptures that contain touch-sensitive LEDs, allowing viewers to change the light colors at night.
Rinconada will house a small collection of children's books.
"We've kept it to serve parents with small children who come when the library is open late," Ziesenhenne said.
The Palo Alto Library Foundation raised more than $4 million for new furniture, equipment and books for all three libraries in the Measure N bond. Of that, $1 million was allocated to books and other collection materials for the system, she said.
The Friends of the Palo Alto Library also provides annual donations to the city's libraries. One $88,000 project this year will help update the libraries' adult nonfiction collections, which contain some books dating back to the 1980s, she said.
Rinconada houses several special collections, including local interest, local authors, gardening and arts and also historical items. The Palo Alto Historical Association, which was once housed in the library, has relocated to Cubberley Community Center.
Rinconada also houses the Foundation Center Funding Information Network, a resource for nonprofit organizations and individuals seeking grants.
One thing the renovated library will not have is a drive-up drop-off for returning books. Instead people will have to park (or walk) and return the books inside or drop them in exterior wall slots.
Programming for the library is still in the development stage. Library officials are putting together a three-year strategic plan that will develop many ideas for programs.
"This library will sponsor more hardware stuff," Howard said, giving as one example a robot-making program that administrators hope to sponsor this summer. "Mitchell Park focuses more on software."
The popularity of libraries as community spaces and information centers has been demonstrated in the numbers of new patrons Palo Alto is already seeing, Howard and Ziesenhenne said. Since the rebuilt Mitchell Park Library opened on Nov. 6, it has registered 2,566 new library cards through Jan. 23, Howard said.
"Only 440 cards were issued to the other four locations during that time," he said. By comparison, 6,400 cards were issued at all branches in all of last year.
Mitchell circulated nearly 120,000 items in December and January; the last fiscal year, it circulated about 585,000 items.
And it has had more than 400 bookings of its group-study room through Jan. 23.
"It's almost like we doubled the library system," he said.
There could be growing pains for the library system. Staff could have to contend with people waiting in lines or a higher volume of items on reserve or more questions from patrons, he said.
And along with the evolution in services and technology, the community's expectations of what a library is and can be will also keep changing. Howard said the time when technology seemed to threatened to make libraries obsolete is past.
"Libraries are still evolving, and we're never going to stop evolving. We're trying to be ahead of the curve," he said.
Rinconada Library fast facts
Year built: 1958
Original purpose: Part of Palo Alto's civic center, along with the building that's now the Palo Alto Art Center
Architect: Edward Durell Stone, an early proponent of modern architecture in the U.S.
Landscape Architect: Eckbo, Royston & Williams
Square footage: 25,000, including the basement
Collection size: 100,000 volumes
Historic features: Lighted ceiling with redwood dividers; light panels with a circle-and-grid motif; high, gabled ceiling above the reading room; redwood plank soffits and paneling; metal spoke chandeliers; freestanding brick chimney; terra cotta screen walls; low horizontal wood-shake roof; brick entrance walls
Cost: $500,000, including land acquisition
Funding source: $700,000 bond measure approved by Palo Alto voters in 1956 (for Main (now Rinconada) and Mitchell Park libraries)
Renovation and expansion
Year built: 2014
Architect: Group 4 Architecture, Research & Planning, Inc.
Landscape Architect: Gates & Associates
Square footage: 28,716 (3,716-square-foot addition)
Collection size: 120,000 volumes
New additions: Four group-study rooms; Embarcadero program/community room; additional public restrooms; vending machine room; skylight lobby
Upgrades: Ground source heat pump system; structural brace frames; radiant-heating floor slab; low-flow plumbing fixtures; energy-efficient and LED lighting; ecological bioretention areas. Landscaping achieves the original intent of creating a unified campus with the Art Center.
Cost: $18 million
Funding source: Measure N, $76 million bond measure approved by Palo Alto voters in 2008 (for Rinconada, Downtown, Mitchell Park libraries and Mitchell Park Community Center) The Palo Alto Library Foundation paid for new furniture, equipment and books for the projects.
Source: Palo Alto City Library
Rinconada Library grand re-opening
The Valentine's Day celebration of the newly renovated Rinconada Library will offer activities for people of all ages, from live music, a docent-led tree walk and robot-making demonstrations to historical presentations, storytelling and an art tour.
Library officials are asking the public to walk or bike to the event, take a shuttle bus or park on the street. Much of the library's parking will be closed off.
Where: 1213 Newell Road, Palo Alto
10:30 -11 a.m. Music by Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra Ensemble
11 -11:30 a.m. Opening ceremony (Outside south library entrance)
Noon-12:30 p.m. "Rinconada Library Past, Present and Future," with Steve Staiger, Palo Alto Historical Association historian, and Monique le Conge Ziesenhenne, library director (Embarcadero Room)
Noon-1 p.m. Tree Walk with a Canopy arborist (Outside north library entrance)
12:30-1 p.m. "Your Dreams Take Flight," a presentation about finding funding for nonprofit organizations through the Foundation Center with Kathy Shields, senior librarian (Embarcadero Room)
1-1:30 p.m. Sssnake Ssstorytime with Ssspecial Visssitor Deborah Anthonyson, senior librarian, and the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo (Children's area in the library)
1-1:30 p.m. Art Tour with Elise DeMarzo, manager of the city's public-art program (Outside between the library and the Palo Alto Art Center)
1-4 p.m. makeX demonstrations (Teen Zone)
1-4 p.m. Make a Valentine (Activities in Palo Alto Art Center with a display in the library)
2-3 p.m. Music by the Firebird Chinese Orchestra with introduction by local author Emily Jiang (Embarcadero Room)
3-4 p.m. "Growing Up Humming," by local author Mike Spinack (Embarcadero Room)
3:30-4 p.m. Children's Theater storytelling with the Palo Alto Children's Theater (Children's area)
Rinconada Library hours
Monday: Noon-8 p.m.
Tuesday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Wednesday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Thursday: Noon-8 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sunday: 1-5 p.m.