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Library’s first chapter is a hit

Visitation to S.L.'s new gathering place has soared

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An "A" grade is what the new Salt Lake City Main Library has likely earned during its first six months of operation.

An estimated 1 million people have visited the library, 210 E. 400 South, from February to August. This means the new library is more than an unusual piece of Salt Lake architecture. As some predicted, it has become a new gathering place for downtown.

"The library is even busier than we expected," said Dana Tumpowsky, community relations manager for the city library system.

Foot traffic is up threefold over the old library, which was half the size of the new library. Overall library usage has increased 70 percent, and the library system (with five branches) is also enjoying a 30 percent usage increase.

Tumpowsky believes some people are reluctant to admit they haven't yet made it to the new library, which opened Feb. 8. However, the good news is that the library still offers regular daily tours for first-time visitors.

"Often, people from out of town will remark that someone at the airport told them not to miss coming to the library on their visit to Salt Lake City," she said.

Library director Nancy Tessman believes there's no part of the $84 million, 240,000-square-foot facility that's being under-utilized to date.

She said many groups have also visited the six-story library in recent months as word of its success has spread nationally.

A Philadelphia librarian group visited recently, as did contingents from Tulsa, Okla., Des Moines, Iowa, and Bozeman, Mont.

"The reactions have been very, very positive — they are quite impressed — in regards to the building as well as the community process," Tessman said. "Philadelphia felt that Salt Lake City was a model for working with the community to build a library that has such a positive impact."

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson also believes the library has lived up to expectations.

"The new library has clearly met everyone's greatest hope as offering our community a major gathering place," he said.

Anderson believes it creates a high-caliber community center that's as good as any in the nation. He's also hopeful that the Utah Arts Festival will continue to be held on the new Library Square and also Washington Square — two neighboring city assets that complement each other.

He said the city is also using library meeting rooms for various city events and open houses, and that arrangement is working well.

Tessman said no actual changes to the library building have been made since it opened. But schedules and staff allocations have been altered to meet the demand of the public.

Tumpowsky said usage of the library space and meeting rooms has tripled from about 200 diverse community groups to about 600 groups holding meetings, conferences, film screenings, concerts, etc., during the past six months.

"We've even heard that folks from as far away as Idaho have come down to hold their meetings here," she said. "You will find at most any time of day, informal meetings are taking place in the Urban Room as well as in the reading galleries in the Crescent Wall. Yes, City Library has truly become the community gathering place that it was designed to be."

From its unique Crescent Wall to its Urban Room, business shops, cage, reflecting pool and plaza, there's plenty of eye candy here, in addition to the thousands of books, videos and tapes.

If you'd like a tour of the new library, they are offered Monday through Thursday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.; on Fridays at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.; on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; and on Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tours for large groups must be scheduled at least a week ahead of time by calling 524-8200.

E-MAIL: lynn@desnews.com