This weekend, the Wichita Public Library will start an exciting new chapter.
After more than a decade of dreaming, planning, fundraising and building, the new Advanced Learning Library — a $38 million downtown branch at Second and McLean Boulevard — will open to the public with a grand opening celebration on Saturday.
"We hope we will have thousands of people in our doors — lots of new library cards," said Cynthia Berner, Wichita's director of libraries.
"We want all those people ... to get their family signed up for reading programs, to look at our calendar of events and just explore this space and see what our community has created."
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The space is bigger, brighter and more modern than the old Central Library at 223 S. Main, which closed last month. On Wednesday, Berner and other library staff gave reporters an early look at what visitors will see on opening day.
Most of the library's infrastructure is complete, Berner said, but a few areas have been delayed and will take shape in coming weeks or months.
A new Reverie Coffee Roasters on the main floor may not be ready to serve drinks and pastries on opening day, but it should be up and running soon, she said.
On the second floor, an outdoor reading terrace is still mostly a blank slate, with an impressive view of downtown Wichita but so far no tables, chairs or umbrellas for shade. Those are on order and should be here by July, Berner said.
Almost everything else is ready for patrons, from touch-screen tables in the genealogy pavilion to the "baby mosh pit" interactive play space in the expansive new children's section.
Among the most striking changes are bookstore-style displays throughout the building, which are designed for easier research and browsing.
In the nonfiction section, for example, books are grouped into themed "neighborhoods," such as travel or current events, rather than strictly by the Dewey decimal system.
"Home and gardening was literally on three different floors in the old building," said Sara Dixon, director of adult programs. "If you wanted a deck, you went to the second floor. If you wanted garden design, third floor. If you wanted books on roses, you went to the first floor.
"We've got it all in one easy, browsable area."
In adult fiction, recent releases are toward the front — again, like a bookstore — and a shelf of staff recommendations in the center. Other shelves spur readers with "If you liked that, you might like this" displays, including one featuring contemporary novels inspired by Jane Austen.
Other areas tempt visitors with features that have little or nothing to do with books. The library trumpets modern technology at every turn: a gaming system set to Fortnite in the teen pavilion, a massive video screen downstairs that promotes upcoming events, rows upon rows of internet-ready computers, and countless charging ports for phones and other devices.
Some improvements the average visitor may not notice. The bottom shelves of bookcases are slanted upward, "which makes the spine easier to read," Berner said. "Particularly for those of us who have reached bifocal age."
The library's grand opening will begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday with a ceremonial "book brigade," Berner said. More than 900 people have signed up so far to participate in the brigade — a line of people that will stretch 0.7 miles from the old downtown branch to the new one, passing a few books and other items along the line to the new library.
One of the items they'll pass down the line is "Mini Mo," a plastic giraffe crafted by the library's new 3D printer that pays homage to a giant stuffed animal — the real Mo — in the children's pavilion. They'll also pass a Reverie coffee cup and a copy of Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go."
To help accommodate large crowds for the opening, Wichita Transit will provide shuttle service between the parking garage near the former Gander Mountain and the Advanced Learning Library's east plaza, Berner said. Shuttles will run every 10 minutes between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Other opening-day activities include GoCreate demonstrations in the new TECnovation Room; children's storytimes at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.; and musical entertainment throughout the day.
Berner said she envisions book clubs and other groups gathering in the library, grabbing cups of coffee, shifting chairs as needed and making the space their own. The branch will be open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.
"We have over 25 collaborative areas in the building, because that's one of the things we want people to do," she said.
Don't have a library card? You can get one Saturday — just bring a printed form of identification with a name and current address, such as a driver's license or government-issued ID.
"This is a city facility, and we are immensely grateful for the support of the city of Wichita, the work they did ... but we had over $8 million of private fundraising that came in to make this a reality as well," Berner said.
"This was very much a public-community project, and I think we can celebrate that."