In 2017, Cleveland residents passed a tax levy set to renew and increase support for Cleveland Public Library, setting into motion a project that will dramatically transform our city’s libraries. Thanks to this vote of support from our community members, we are able to move forward confidently with our plans to not just renovate, not just improve, but reimagine all neighborhood libraries in the Cleveland Public Library system. I like to say that our 27 branch libraries are the beating heart of our organization. They also serve as cultural, educational, and social hubs within their individual communities. Branch libraries are where children gather after school or learn to read and use computers, where adults find career resources and take classes, where seniors seek out community and connection, and where patrons of all ages can learn something new, gain technological skills, appreciate the arts, or get acquainted with others in their community.
Our branches are a precious part of the fabric of our city, and it’s time for us to reinvest in their futures to ensure they’ll continue serving our residents for many years to come. With this Facilities Master Plan, we’re setting out to fulfill our promise to revitalize our libraries. As always, we’re letting the needs of the community guide us. With the help of Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC), we held a range of community meetings between 2014 and 2018 to more deeply consider what our patrons most need from our branches, what could be improved or changed, and how we might re-envision our facilities to meet those needs.
Next, to complete the first phase of this project, nine branches within our system underwent important repairs in 2018—including electrical, plumbing, and roofing work—to help keep these buildings safe, accessible, and sustainable. With this first phase complete, we’re ready to move on to the second phase of our branch revitalization initiative, which will involve more dramatic changes and improvements. Recommendations to transform our branches include exterior architectural renovations, redesigned interior spaces, solutions aimed to bridge the digital divide, and more.
Above all, this Facilities Master Plan represents possibility. While some aspects of our plans remain works in progress, we have the same goal in the end: to give Clevelanders the best network of community libraries we possibly can. This might entail entirely rebuilding some branch libraries while others will be renovated, others refreshed, and yet others receive additions. In every case, we’ll strive to improve the connectivity, efficiency, and effectiveness of individual libraries as well as that of our larger organization. Beyond all that this initiative can do for the future of Cleveland Public Library, it’s also a way to honor and preserve our past. This revitalization project marks the third major, system-wide capital project in our 150-year history. The first such initiative of this scale was marked by the construction of the first branch libraries between 1906 and 1928 under the direction of William Howard Brett. In the second system-wide project, which was spearheaded by Ervin J. Gaines between 1975 and 1989, nine new branches were constructed and another nine were renovated. Now, we have the chance to continue cementing the Library’s historic place in our city by embarking on the boldest reimagining of our library system yet.
I couldn’t be more pleased that this initiative begins in the midst of the Library’s 150th anniversary year. Our anniversary helps put the project’s scope into perspective. After all, we’re preparing for our next 150 years of service and beyond. As you read this Facilities Master Plan, I invite you to consider not only its proposals but all the ways Cleveland Public Library might grow, change, and improve in the future.
So please, join me in imagining all that is possible.
Felton Thomas, Jr.
Executive Director & CEO
Cleveland Public Library