One of the coolest things about the new library doesn’t have anything to do with books, or collections, or reading rooms.
It’s a walkway called Library Lane.
Extending north-and-south through the middle of the building on the ground floor, Library Lane is more than just a hallway through the building; it provides public access from State Street to Oak Street — and it does so based on an historic designation dating to 1912. “In order to qualify for a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, they had to own the land outright,” said June Knudson, library director. The club petitioned the city to vacate the property between State and Oak streets, and what was to be 5th Street — which hadn’t yet been created — and 6th Street.
At that time, the Women’s Club, which is the equivalent of today’s Library Foundation, was searching for property where they could build Hood River’s first library.
“At that time, 4th and 6th streets were there, but not 5th,” Knudson said. But the Roe-Parker House was there, on State, and a bank was located in what is now Hood River Jewelers on Oak Street.
“The city wanted to make sure there was access (between State and Oak) for people and teams,” Knudson said. When the club got the property for the library, specific language in the deed provided for such access. The resulting dirt road that ran along the east side of the original library soon became referred to as Library Lane. It later became a sidewalk, but it always provided an important throughway between the two main streets.
“When the architects began designing the library addition, they decided Library Lane was an important part of our history,” Knudson said. So they incorporated the lane into the design.
Library Lane is open during regular library hours and, according to Knudson, “people are using it.” The hallway will also serve as a venue to display artwork. A donor bought a secure display system that will be installed in Library Lane, where the monthly Friends of the Library art shows will take place.
Along with Library Lane, there are other additions to the new library that make it one of the premier small town libraries anywhere. One of them is the children’s library, which takes up the entire first floor of the original building — exactly where it was before, although the area is much larger, since the storage and work spaces that used to occupy more than half the space are now located elsewhere.
All vestiges of the somewhat dingy former kid’s area are long gone.
“I told the architect that I wanted a children’s library that didn’t just look like a scaled-down version of the rest of the library,” Knudson said. The result is a brightly-lit, kid-friendly but stylish haven for young bookworms. The large space — with far more room for bookshelves — is easy to navigate, with plenty of room to sit and read in comfy chairs, along a window seat and at kid-sized tables.
A glassed-off room, called Creative Corner, provides a separate space for reading and study, tutoring or even crafts.
But the highlight of the children’s library is Storybook Theater, a whimsical room where Children’s Storytime and other special events will be held. With built-in benches covered in purple, orange and lime green shag carpet where kids can sit, the theatre has already become the place to be in the kid’s library.
“It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen in a library,” Knudson said. “With the theatre seating, it’s casual and relaxed and lots of kids can fit in there.” Integral to the theater is a special storyteller’s chair named after Emma June Kenworthy, a trained storyteller who conducted many Children’s Storytime sessions over the last decade. Kenworthy died of cancer at about the time the library moved to its temporary quarters prior to the new library construction.
Another feature of the library that’s sure to be the favorite place of many is the Columbia Room on the upper floor. Located where the old entrance to the library was on the southwest corner, the room houses Northwest Collections and genealogy archives.
But the draw of the room is its ambience. Half the room is floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and the other half is floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the sloping lawn in front of the library, Mike’s Ice Cream and the Columbia River beyond. The room was a creative way the architects came up with to deal with the old entrance, an unaesthetic but necessary addition built onto the side of the library in 1969 to meet ADA requirements for disabled access.
According to Knudson, the room was originally going to be walled in (for more shelf space) but the architects protested.
“They said, ‘It’s a historic building looking out on a historic park and they don’t talk,’” she said. The result was the floor-to-ceiling windows, which does eliminate shelf space but is worth the sacrifice.
One more special feature of the new library is the Jean Marie Gaulke Memorial Meeting Room, located on the first floor in the northeast corner of the new wing. Gaulke, a longtime library patron, died during the fundraising campaign for the new library.
The meeting room can be used by local non-profit groups for occasional meetings (not for regularly scheduled ones) and by others in the community needing a place to gather. The only rules are that meetings must be open to the public and users can’t solicit or sell anything at meetings held there.
“It’s part of what libraries see as our mission,” Knudson said. “We’re sort of a community living room.”
With the remodel and addition to the library, Hood River has gained a posh and comfortable new living room for all to enjoy. And it’s got the coolest hallway in town.