The Brooklyn Branch of Cleveland Public Library, a Carnegie building constructed in 1919, has always been beloved by neighborhood residents. The quaint brick building sits on a small grassy lawn shaded with big leafy trees just across the street from the well-kept Riverside Cemetery. Blocks and blocks of strip malls, parking lots, and businesses make the green space a welcome sight. Among businesses, there are still homes that line the streets around the branch and cemetery making it walkable for residents.
Enter the building and you’ll find that it’s an intimate branch, small but diverse. “The branch can be a resource for those trying to get back on their feet and reintegrate,” said Ron Roberts, Brooklyn Branch Manager. Roberts has helped patrons work on resumes and some have gone on to land jobs with the help they received at the Brooklyn Branch. The Brooklyn Branch is also a place for children to play and learn. Denison Elementary and Horizon Academy students often visit the branch after school. The students use the computers for homework and gaming, while also checking out the collection of manga. The branch is home to immigrant families. Those who do not speak English as their first language use the space and resources to learn the language. Other patrons stop by only to print and copy, but Brooklyn Branch is happy to be of use to everyone and anyone who needs its resources, no matter how often they stop in.
In 2021, Cleveland Public Library set forth on a mission to change the way we do business. The Library established a Supplier Diversity Council which recommended a bidding process for any contract over $10,000. At least one minority-owned business must be among the bids. The Facilities Master Plan will touch each and every one of the Cleveland Public Library branches. This project is huge. The Library will review more than 100 bids over the duration of the project.
In addition to adhering to the process enacted by the Supplier Diversity Council, the Library felt collaborating with diverse vendors who could understand the community would translate into a space that would best serve a diverse community. The team for this project includes, architects, Vocon, and partners AKA Construction Team and Regency Construction Services. Together, they will build the branch of the future. AKA and Regency have teamed together on other Cleveland Public Library projects including the Eastman, Lorain, and Rockport Branches, as well as projects unrelated to the Library. Tari Rivera, founder of Regency and a pioneer in the construction field, wanted to provide opportunities for women to get involved in construction. That’s why Rivera didn’t hesitate to provide mentorship to a business connection she had made some 15 years ago. That mentee was Ariane Kirkpatrick, now President of AKA Construction Team. “Partnering together provides diversity in thought. We’re able to look at something from two sides to process information and arrive at a solution,” says Rivera regarding the project. This only seems right because a big goal of the new Brooklyn Branch is to provide opportunities for people who are looking to grow.
The vision for the Brooklyn Branch is a space that is as diverse and adaptable as the patrons who visit it. Looking for a coworking space or a quiet room to conduct business, read, or create? You’ll find that and more at the new branch. Bright light will fill the open space creating a welcoming atmosphere. The wall to the closed off meeting room in the back will come down making the space feel larger. When you enter, the new focal point will be an old piece of the building – the historic fireplace. Carefully selected furniture will be easy to move and reconfigure making the most out of the small footprint of the branch. One such example is the children’s section. Previously lumped together, the new floorplan will use furniture to create a separate space for the teens and tweens who often occupy the branch. In the absence of the meeting room, two smaller private rooms will be available to reserve. The adaptability contributes to the ability for patrons to utilize the branch as coworking space. Whether working collaboratively or individually in proximity, patrons and visitors can take advantage of loaner laptops, print/copy/fax equipment, and meeting rooms. Creatives and crafters can utilize the maker table and Cricut machine. With these tools at their disposal, a patron could conduct business without needing a business space. The possibilities are endless.
To look towards the future, we often must look back at the past. In the very beginning, renowned supervising architect Ora Coltman considered that the 1919 branch building may one day serve a different purpose. The brick facade, made to be semi-fireproof, had factory style sky lights that would be suitable for light industrial work. Fast forward to 1985, over half a century later – it was clear that the Brooklyn Branch would not have any need to become home to a factory. That same year, the branch renovated for the first time. Like our current Facilities Master Plan, the update was the result of a survey conducted on the state of Cleveland Public Library branches with input from branch staff. The Library repaired the roof leaks and flood damage, installed an air conditioner, and revamped the worn and dated interior with brand new furnishings, while opening up the space. Like the last renovation, the classic fireplace will remain untouched.
As times change so do the needs of a community and its expectations. The Brooklyn Branch of Cleveland Public Library is undergoing more than a renovation, it’s a reimagination of the concept of a traditional library with a nod to its historic background. The adaptability of this space will serve the evolving needs of its community and patrons many years to come.