There’s a new library coming to Minneapolis. The Central Library will be home to a collection of 2.5 million items—the largest of any public library in Minnesota and the fourth largest in the nation. Called “Minneapolis’ most important civic project,” the new facility looks to be far more friendly to patrons and workers with disabilities than the old Central Library, and there are still many opportunities for the community to help shape the project in the interest of maximum accessibility.
Access Press attended a workshop on December 11 designed to get input from the community on how to make the new library as user-friendly as possible for people with disabilities. While attendance at the workshop was sparse, the presence of high-ranking staff, including Jan Feye-Stukas, acting director of the library, indicates that issues of access are important to the leadership of the library.
Library staff acknowledged that, while “mostly in ADA compliance,” the old library was in many ways less than user-friendly to patrons with disabilities. In addition, they pointed out, the former library was “not fully accessible for employees.” Architect Peter Vesterholt informed attendees that the new building “is certainly extremely accessible,” adding that the Minneapolis Advisory Committee On People With Disabilities (MACPWD) has been involved with the architects for some time in the planning of the new facility. As a result, the building will be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in regard to public accessibility. Staff has been assured that the new library will be fully accessible for present and potential employees as well.
Vesterholt made it clear that the design of the new facility will exceed ADA requirements “when possible,” but the degree to which this is true will be affected by, among other things, budget limitations. Vesterholt also stated that there will be further meetings with the MACPWD, and that the Committee will also be asked to “sign off” before the final plan is approved.
Many Details Still Undecided
While many of the decisions concerning the structural design of the new library have been settled, the workshop made it clear that many other decisions that will affect people with disabilities still remain to be made. Nancy Corcoran, section head in charge of business, technology, documents, and periodicals, stressed to Access Press that important details about staffing, placement and arrangement of assistive technology, public interfaces with programs and resources, and many other things still remain to be decided.
“There is a room on the first floor designated as the Assistive Technology Center,” said Corcoran. “We will definitely have some equipment for the visually impaired (which we have now) and hope to expand our equipment offerings. It is too early yet to know if we will be doing some programming and outreach, but these are possibilities we will be looking at…depending, of course, on time, money and staff.”
Those in attendance came up with many ideas for making the new library friendly to people with disabilities, emphasizing the need to educate the public about what the library has to offer. Ideas included having special tours of the new facility for people in the community, and emphasizing outreach to inform community members of special programs and resources. Those present stressed that such efforts should not wait for the new library to be built, pointing out that many people in the community are not aware of the resources that the library currently has available.
As one member of the Minneapolis Advisory Committee told Access Press, leadership of the library appears to be listening to the ideas of people with disabilities, but sometimes they have to have our ideas repeated many times before they truly hear them. As of this writing, the Web page set aside for public comment on the new library has only one comment about accessibility for people with disabilities. (Visit www.mplib.org/ncl_comments.asp)
Those wishing to have input on the new library can do so in the following ways:
- Fill out the library’s on-line form at www.mplib.org/yourideas.asp.
- Call the comment line at (612) 630‑6263.
- Fill out a comment form available at any Minneapolis public library or by writing to: New Central Library Project, Minneapolis Public Library, 250 Marquette Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55401.
- Contact the project coordinator’s office which is happy to schedule special meetings for groups or organizations interested in having input on the planning process. Contact Sally Westby in the New Central Library Project Office at 612-342-0170 to schedule a meeting.