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Plans Take Shape As Library Prepares Return to Downtown

Matthew Hersh

What does the tune of $18.7 million sound like? For Eric Greenfeldt, assistant director of the Princeton Public Library, it sounds like an impressive overture prefacing the completion of four floors of education, recreation, multimedia, and service to a greater Princeton community. Despite obstacles the library project has overcome, Mr. Greenfeldt is ready to deliver the library's completed symphony, and he feels as though it will receive an enduring ovation.

Last week, the library took definitive steps towards the approaching opening date for the new library. Starting Monday, November 10, the branch library at the Princeton Shopping Center will reduce its weekly hours from 74 to 62 by closing on Mondays up until the move to the new facility.

Though the downtown library is still far from completed, Mr. Greenfeldt can identify where walls will be built, which rooms will be used for what purpose, and the plans for practically every inch of the new library's 55,000 square feet.

"Think of a Barnes & Noble concept," Mr. Greenfeldt said. "Libraries have been watching the success of the bigger stores, and we're picking up on a lot of ideas."

"The building is transparent," he said, referring to the architecture that consists of impressive open spaces, glass facades, a centrally located plaza, and a 5,000 square foot penthouse terrace. Throw in two fireplaces where you can sit with hot cocoa purchased from the cafe downstairs, and you have something a bit more impressive in architecture and utility than a Barnes & Noble.

With a portable stage for music performances and other productions, a gift shop, and a 150-seat conference area, the library is starting to take form. The walls are still open, and there is no semblance of a physical interior design, but the floor plans are set, and Mr. Greenfeldt maintains a March 16 completion date and an early April 2004 opening.

Employees, however, will not see reductions in work time. The closing is intended to give the staff ample preparation time for the move. The library cafe will remain open on Mondays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Patrons are advised to use the rear entrance.

In addition, much of the library's programming for adults and children will be suspended until after the move is completed.

Library Director Leslie Burger offered a statement last week that delineated the library's plans and offered an apology for the inconvenience the closing may have on library patrons.

"This was a very difficult decision to make, but the sheer volume of things we need to do in advance of the opening left us with no other choice," Ms. Burger said. "We ask the community's indulgence."

One of the projects includes the insertion of computer chips into approximately 146,000 books in preparation for the library's computer self-checkout system. Another is getting the library's employees properly trained and acclimated to new systems, and enhanced or added departments.

Mr. Greenfeldt, who has been with the library for nearly 30 years, walked two Princeton University administrators and a reporter through soon-to-be study areas, quiet areas where no laptops or portables will be allowed, a technical processing center where patrons can check out books without visiting the circulation desk, and rooms with thematic purposes.

He also underlined the library's attempt to serve a wider demographic in the community. The third floor will be home to a teen center with chairs, study tables, and computers. Mr. Greenfeldt also said that he hoped the library maintains the typical, albeit modest, amount of University students who hold memberships. He said that the Princeton Public Library is, in some cases, a more attractive alternative to University facilities. He mentioned that some of the University libraries do not allow students to take books with them.

"Marquand Art Library is a reference library. [University students] come here because they can check out books on Picasso and Mattisse and take them home." Mr. Greenfeldt said that approximately 1,000 University students currently have memberships to the library.

The University, which is designing the library's computer network and is offering technical support, has also given $500,000 to aid the library project. Princeton Public Library will honor the donation with a room dedicated to University history and the historical ups and downs of Town/Gown relations.

The third floor will also be home to the children's story room, and it will be able to accommodate up to 30 children. To enhance the area, Mr. Greenfeldt said that a sculpture of a swan inspired by E.B. White's Trumpet of the Swan will be on display, and that the library received a gift for a 10x6 foot tropical aquarium. The section will also be equipped with interactive computer programs geared toward learning. Mr. Greenfeldt said that all computer systems will use Dell computers.

Mr. Greenfeldt said that a major goal in the building of the downtown facility is to keep up-to-date and competitive with advanced technology. "We need somewhere people can go and learn about what's going on," he said. Mr. Greenfeldt added that CDs, videos, and books on CD account for about 12 percent of the library's collection and up to 30 percent of its circulation.

"[The library] is blessed with incredible resources, and we can have examples of new technology," he said.

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