Approaching the five-year anniversary of its new building, the Oak Park Public Library is exploring ways to make its entrance less “cold” and more inviting.

The library is looking to spruce up the lobby of its main building-which some contend is the most notable piece of new architecture in the village in recent years-to improve its usefulness along with its appearance.

“The lobby wasn’t as successful as the entire rest of the building,” said Deirdre Brennan, the library’s executive director. “We had complaints that it’s cold-not temperature-wise, but just wasn’t warm and inviting.”

Those complaints came from both staff and
customers at the library.

The library community has discussed tweaking the lobby area (which starts past the café) since the building opened, Brennan said. Gripes include: the front desk being too far from the entrance, a shortage of self-checkout machines, and the lack of staff members by the lobby entrance, Brennan said.

An estimated 33 percent of library customers use the computer checkout stations. With circulation numbers increasing, the library would like to add more of the machines, as opposed to adding more librarians.

“That’s a real driving force behind these changes,” Brennan said. “Circulation keeps going up, and we’re not going to be adding staff to accommodate the increase.”

The library is mulling over the idea of adding checkout machines to one of the center pillars currently used for displaying books. The display is hollow in its center and already has electrical connections.

The front desk and machines could also be moved closer to the door so they’re more noticeable, Brennan said, and the security desk might also be shifted away from its current spot. Another suggestion was to remove the metal bars close to the front desk, which were meant to help people line up, but ended up just being “barriers,” she said.

“There’s no staff available until you get all the way to the other end,” Brennan added. “It’s quite a ways, except for the security guards, and they often end up being asked questions they are unable to answer.”

The library once experimented with putting a greeter in front of its door, similar to big-box retailer Wal-Mart.

Architects for the main building, located at 834 Lake St., have talked to library staff about the lobby’s possibilities. The library has $50,000 earmarked in this year’s budget for any changes. However, there’s always the chance the money could be allocated elsewhere, she added.

The library may move forward with the changes-part of its strategic plan-in the next few months. The library board would need to approve the work, which Brennan said is not major construction.

“This goes hand-in-hand with some of the current philosophies of the library,” said Jim Egeberg, library board president, adding that it addresses goals like enhancing services and making the library more user-friendly.

The building’s architects must come up with drawings, gather feedback, and determine the costs. Ideally, the changes would be in place for the library’s five-year celebration of the building’s opening, coming up this October.

With the organization settled in its new space, it’s time to do a little tinkering to make things more comfortable. “We’ve lived here five years now, and we know what works and could work better,” Brennan said.

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