Setting the Stage for Cleveland Public Library’s Next 150 Years

As Cleveland Public Library approaches its 150th anniversary, the majority of its branches are slated to be revitalized to best serve Cleveland communities well into the future. To that end, the Library is embarking on an ambitious, multiyear capital project to ensure its neighborhood branch libraries can continue to function as safe, inclusive, and sustainable environments. 

The first phase of this two-pronged revitalization project will address critical repairs to ten branches located throughout the Library system. Branches impacted by this maintenance work include Lorain, Glenville, Jefferson, Harvard-Lee, Carnegie West, Addison, Fulton, Langston Hughes, and Collinwood. As the first branches scheduled for construction, Lorain and Glenville will temporarily close on February 5, 2018. Additional branches will follow on a rolling basis throughout the spring and summer of 2018.  

Most branch libraries are expected to close for approximately six to nine weeks. During this process, patrons in affected neighborhoods will be redirected to nearby branches to obtain library services. After the completion of repairs, the Library will seek feedback from within each branch’s community to determine what additional improvements—such as configuring the interior space, making cosmetic improvements, incorporating new technologies, and more—might benefit the branch. 

A Vision for a Stronger Community 

This maintenance work reflects only one portion of a larger, long-term plan to transform Cleveland Public Library’s neighborhood branches. As part of the Library’s Community Vision Plan, and in partnership with Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC), a series of collaborative public meetings and focus groups helped identify how select branch libraries could be improved and updated to better serve their surrounding neighborhoods. By soliciting input from a diverse range of library patrons, neighborhood residents, and community stakeholders, the Library and CUDC developed a clearer vision for these branches. The successful passage of Cleveland Public Library’s levy in November 2017 ensured that this important work can move forward.  

The Community Vision Plan includes thirteen branches, with recommendations surrounding exterior architectural renovations, redesigned interior spaces, solutions aimed to bridge the digital divide, and more. South Branch, a historic Carnegie building currently being transformed through this capital project, will receive updates to reflect improved accessibility and space for new technologies, all while retaining the original building’s character and history. 

The branches in the Community Vision Plan, coupled with the ten branches due for high-priority maintenance work, account for the majority of the Library’s branches. Only four branch libraries do not fall into either category and will be addressed independently. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch, for example, is currently the subject of an international design competition, which will result in a new, state-of-the-art facility. As a result of these various projects, Cleveland Public Library is poised to transform the face of most of its facilities in the coming years. 

Making History 

This branch revitalization plan marks the third system-wide capital project in Cleveland Public Library’s nearly 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. Of the branches built during this time, ten remain in use within the Cleveland Public Library system; the average age of these historic branches is 96 years.  

In the second system-wide project, which was spearheaded by Cleveland Public Library Director Ervin J. Gaines between 1975 and 1989, nine new branches were constructed and another nine were renovated. Branches built during that time are now an average of 35 years old. Other branches built outside these two major projects are aging, as well, which means the Library’s extensive branch system is due for some much-needed updates. This ambitious plan will help set the stage for Cleveland Public Library’s next 150 years.  

“We’re excited to get started,” says Felton Thomas, Jr., Executive Director of Cleveland Public Library, “and we look forward to working with our patrons and the community to advance our libraries into the future.”