A sneak peek inside Wichita's new Advanced Learning Library: Bolder, brighter, better

Note: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect figure for the number of returns that can be processed per hour.

It won't be finished for about six weeks, but Wichita's new downtown library will be brighter, more open, more flexible and more technologically capable than existing libraries.

The city is in the process of saying goodbye to the old Central Library and on Friday, Library Director Cynthia Berner gave reporters a sneak peek at what to expect when the new Advanced Learning Library opens at 711 W. Second St.

Berner said it's bittersweet for the staff to be closing down the Central Library, where she's worked since 1992. Its last day will be May 6.

But with the new library, "We're going from something very quiet and passive to something that's very engaging," she said.

Innovation starts at the entryway, which will be the site of a coffee cafe run by Reverie Roasters and a space that can be rented out as a venue for after-hours meetings and parties.

Just off the main hallway is a large "collaboration room" with four video projection systems and room for large events.

That will double as a storm shelter large enough to accommodate all the expected patrons and staff and hardened to withstand a storm with winds up to 250 mph, Berner said.

The entry is also the station for an automated book return system that's expected to free up staff time to serve customers rather than run the clerical functions of checking in materials. Patrons will put their materials for return on a conveyor that will turn them over, read the bar codes, record that the material has been checked in and presort materials by type for reshelving, Berner said. The system is designed to handle as many as 1,100 returns per hour. Two other conveyors run to outdoor drops for after-hours service, she said.

Checkout will also be largely self-service, at a series of kiosks.

Also near the entry is a 16-foot by 9-foot video wall that can be one big screen or divided into 16 screens. That can be used for special events, such as showing NASA streams of eclipses or other astronomical phenomena, and for content that highlights and promotes the library's programming, said Jeff Tate, who heads the technology section.

Among the other highlights:

For children: Just off the main hallway is a 10,000-square-foot children's pavilion, far larger that the current children's room at the Central Library. In addition to books, much of that space has been set aside for education programs and gaming. A ceiling-mounted, down-pointing projector will be able to project games on the floor and children will be able to play by moving through the simulations.

There's also a large multi-purpose room that can be subdivided into several smaller spaces depending on need, again equipped with video capabilities.

The end of the multi-purpose area is a glass garage-style rolling door that can be opened into an enclosed courtyard for indoor-outdoor activities. Next to the multi-purpose room is a "quiet room" where parents will be able to take breaks with tots and children with special needs if they get overstimulated.

Picture books will be grouped by subjects instead of alphabetically by author to make them easier to find. And there will be a family restroom.

For techies: Computer stations will be available throughout the library, with a computing/business/printing center on the first floor. The library will have the fastest internet service available in Wichita — gigabit speed — and fast wi-fi will be available throughout the building for patrons with laptops, tablets and other mobile devices.

Also on the first floor will be a "technovation center" that will combine aspects of a maker space and instructional space. It will have a 3D printer and downward-pointing cameras that can focus in on a person's hands for instructional how-to presentations and classes.

For teens: The new library will have a large teen pavilion housing printed material appropriate for that age group. Technology is blended into the space with three large monitors that can be used for presentations and collaborative projects. There will be a room set up for video production and editing along with two study rooms that can be used by teens as quiet spaces or for activities that are too noisy for the main room.

For general readers: The main shelving areas of the library will be more open and most shelves will top out at 60 inches tall to provide lines of sight across the floors. The bottom shelves are slanted to tilt books upward so patrons can see what's there without having to stoop as much as they would for a flat shelf. Fiction will be on the first floor with non-fiction on the second floor.

The shelf space is broken up with multiple small areas to sit and read.

For book buyers: The Friends of the Library have for a long time sold retired library materials and donated books at the library to raise money for programs. That will continue in a new space with a larger capacity just off the main entryway.