The Renovation Is Now Complete
The Racine Public Library eagerly invites the community to explore its newly renovated second floor at a reopening celebration on Saturday, May 20, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The celebration will honor what the library does best by sharing resources with the community through a health fair. The Health and Family Resource Fair will showcase more than 30 local vendors offering free resources to support community members with housing, employment, health care and more. Free refreshments and raffle prizes will also be available throughout the event. The grand opening fair is hosted in partnership with Familia Dental, Aurora Health Care and the dozens of local organizations that will host booths at the event.
The renovation is the culmination of a construction project that began in April 2022, after nearly a year of planning and many more years of hopeful conversations. Other than an aesthetic refresh to the second floor more than 10 years ago, this is the most dramatic update the library’s current building has seen since its expansion over 30 years ago.
The Racine Public Library’s renovated second floor was designed by Product Architecture + Design and built by Rasch Construction & Engineering — and of course, championed by the 60+ visionary staff members of the Racine Public Library.
The Vision Behind the Renovation
The library’s second floor has been reimagined into a bright and open space that encourages visitors to work, play, study and explore. The new space was designed with accessibility and a more appealing experience in mind, with the goal of culminating a vision of libraries that are transitioning “from collections to connections.”
“If we want to improve the way we live and to create more inclusive spaces and environments for our community, we need to think carefully about how we’re designing the space and how people will interact in these spaces,” says Angela Zimmermann, executive director of the Racine Public Library. “We wanted to cultivate spaces within the library to send strong messages to everyone that you are valued and welcomed, and these spaces were created for you to explore, learn and discover.”
At the core of the impetus for the renovation was the library board and leadership’s understanding that as Racine grew and changed, the library must follow. A person’s journey of becoming themself relies on not just books, but also technology, connection and beyond — so the Racine Public Library serves all of these needs in its work to help our community learn and grow. This is where the concept of transliteracy — the ability to read, write and interact through a variety of platforms, tools and media — comes in. A library, after all, is more than an institution of literature. Our library offers a holistic understanding of literacy that also encompasses how to use technology, how to learn new skills, how to meet your basic needs, and so much more.
What’s New to the Library
The library’s renovation offers new accessibility, transliteracy and connectivity through a variety of new and imagined spaces and resources.
Among the most visible changes are the new entrance to the library on Lake Avenue that opens right onto the second floor. Visitors who enter through these doors will be greeted by a staff person at a new desk just inside the entrance, as well as a view of the library that extends all the way to Lake Michigan. Just inside are the new TeenScene (a community area for our young visitors), the remodeled Innovation Lab, and our nonfiction collection.
Or, for guests who enter through the original doors on the first floor, the most prominent change will be the new staircase just inside the entrance. Those who enter the second floor through the new stairs will notice the Beyond Books collection in its new, boutique-style home just alongside the stairs, as well as our inviting new staff desk to answer your questions and help you find what you’re looking for.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The renovation has added multiple new community spaces for booking and walk-in use, including a community room for large meetings, a business center for communal work, and new study rooms and flex spaces. The history room has received an upgrade, now featuring climate controls for better preservation of microfilm, old documents and other local records. You can see the changes throughout the way the second floor is laid out, which makes items easier to find and more enjoyable to browse. The renovation has even made the experience of collaboration between staff and visitors more inviting.
“Because of the job I do, I’d have to say my favorite part of the renovation is the new desks. We’re in a much better location to greet people now,” says Adult Services Supervisor Sue McGrath. “Patrons feel more free to approach staff in the new space, and what everyone says — including myself — is that it’s so much more open now.”
The Beyond Books Boutique
Many libraries lend out items alongside books — it’s a great way to allow community members to try new skills or complete projects that require specialized tools without having to purchase and store bulky, expensive equipment. Common examples of items you can check out include computers, board games, hotspots and more. At the Racine Public Library, this selection of items is called the Beyond Books Collection.
The Beyond Books Collection has been a staple of the library’s offerings for a while now, but its space among the library’s shelves is new. The collection’s new location just beside the staircase features an open layout with front-facing shelves that make it easy not just to find what you’re looking for, but even to discover something new.
“You can’t help but notice the Beyond Books Collection,” says Adult Services Librarian Mark Krause, the curator of the Beyond Books Collection. “Now that people can take their time to look at the collection from section to section, I see patrons browsing it much more often. And when people are introduced to new things through a collection like this, that can spark an interest that they didn’t even know they had.”
The Beyond Books boutique is available during the library’s open hours. To browse the collection in advance, visit RacineLibrary.info/beyond-books. Be sure to watch out for new items coming soon to the collection, such as a portable 3D printer, an inflatable snakes and ladders game set, a dulcimer and hobby bundles.
TeenScene is a new room designed by and for the library’s young visitors. Before the renovation, the only space in the library designated for teens was a cluster of beanbags in an open section of the library. The new TeenScene is more like a clubhouse. Its entryway is the colorful nook housing the Young Adult books collection. Within the room itself, there’s a computer station with PCs and a Mac, tables for studying and other activities, booths for gathering with friends, and a gaming station with an Infinity Table, a Switch, an Xbox and even a Wii.
Teen Librarian Carrie Richmond, who supervises TeenScene, has centered teens’ feedback heavily in the process of planning activities for the space. She strongly encourages teens to share their ideas for new features for TeenScene, and the space was even named by the library’s young visitors.
“This space is not just designed around teens, but intended solely for them,” says Richmond. “It’s a way for teens to get out of their house without the rules of school. And for many teens, it’s a safe space where they can relax and enjoy the library without being either treated like kids or pushed to behave like adults.”
TeenScene is open Tuesdays through Thursdays, 3-7 p.m., and during teen programs. Visit RacineLibrary.info/teens to learn more.
The Innovation Lab
As STEAM (science, technology, engineering arts and math) skills become increasingly central to today’s workplaces, the library’s team knew it was crucial to offer services that could support careers in these areas. To this end, the reimagined Innovation Lab is an inviting new space to spark budding creators, coders and engineers.
“Until now, we’ve never had a space where we could invite the public in,” says Melissa Donaldson, head of digital services and innovation. “Now, we can share and introduce all the cool technology. We’ve crossed the line into the 21st century.”
The new Lab is full of workstations where visitors can try the lab’s robots and devices. Features like glass walls make the room and its equipment easy to discover, and the engaging colors and design elements set the stage for learning. Plus, the designated space makes it easier to set up engaging activities like Maker Mondays, coding classes, tech help sessions, robotics labs and more. Coming soon, the Lab plans to offer new programming to introduce preschoolers to STEAM skills, as well as new visits with schools to share technology and STEAM education with students.
The History Room
One of the cornerstones of the Racine Public Library — its history room — has been refreshed to better carry Racine’s history into the future. Full of maps, directories, city records and other archives, the History Room safeguards pieces of Racine’s legacy from its founding all the way up to present day. The refresh has added new space to the room, as well as climate control that adds decades to the lifespan of microfilm and other old documents.
A visit to the History Room — or with its curator, Local History Librarian Rebecca Leannah — transports visitors into a space of local culture and nostalgia. The uses of the room are as diverse as its patrons. Some stop in to explore the Golden Books archive, which includes at least one copy of every Golden Book, as well as a selection of toys and memorabilia. And some visitors are tracing their lineage or learning about their home’s origins. Whether your interest is true crime, local authors like Brittany Young or Jeanne Arnold, or a revival of the art of storytelling, the History Room is a treasure trove for those exploring Racine and its roots.
When asked about what makes a history room such a foundational part of a library, Leannah’s answer was simple. “People are made of stories, and we’ve gotta be able to tell them.”
To schedule your visit to the history room, contact Rebecca Leannah at [email protected] or (262) 636-9255. To learn more about the library’s historical services, visit RacineLibrary.info/history-room.
What’s Ahead for the Library
Although the renovation is complete, the library’s work of transformation continues through the impact on patrons’ lives. As the dust settles, the library’s focus is to invite visitors back into the space and show them new ways of using a library in the 2020s. Looking ahead, the library is in the early stages of launching a capital campaign to replenish funds and set the foundation for future renovations — such as its upcoming expansion of the booksale nook, set to commence in late spring.
“We’re all so excited and proud of our new space, and I’m thrilled to invite the Racine community to get reacquainted with the library,” says Angela Zimmermann. “Whether you’re coming as a business in need of a meeting space, an organization with a service to share with library visitors, a student in need of a place to study, or simply to pick up a new skill, game or book, we can’t wait to introduce you to your new library.”