A new Downtown library

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October 29, 2002 // UPDATED 1:32 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

No, Cesar Pelli's Central Library is still four years away -- the newest book showplace is a little further down Hennepin Avenue

The eyes of Minneapolis have been focused on the proposed Central Public Library at Hennepin and 3rd Street, but another new Downtown library has risen with little fanfare just down the avenue.

The Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), 1501 Hennepin Ave., has almost completed Wheelock Whitney Hall, a three-story building with a library on the first two floors and an information/technology training center on the top floor.

It's a building that MCTC officials say will better serve their students -- and the Downtown community (see sidebar, p. 15).

Right now, even some students don't know where to find MCTC's current library, says library coordinator Tom Eland.

"Half the students don't even know there is a library on campus because of the way we're set up on the 5th floor," of MCTC's Helland Center, said Eland. "There's no clear indication of the library. It's not something you see."

And if you manage to find the library -- which also occupies the building's 4th floor -- Eland and MCTC president Phil Davis say it is beset with problems. On the grievance list: no internal elevator, one inadequate classroom, too few computers and no group study spaces or media viewing rooms.

Fundamentally, Eland says, the space does not fit the library's needs. "From the beginning, the space we're in now wasn't intended to be a library," he said.

With no elevator inside the library, Davis said that students with

disabilities have a hard time getting to the library and also using it. Library staff have problems shelving books on two floors. "We have to go use the external elevator and unlock that and unlock the 5th floor," Eland said. "You go through this whole rigmarole."

The MCTC library is a teaching library, hosting a required course in information literacy and research skills. According to Eland, MCTC has 12 sections of this class every semester with 27 students each. They meet in a small library classroom with about 15 computers. Students must share the computers during class. "We've grown out of that space," Eland said.

And unlike most college libraries, MCTC's library has no group study areas and no rooms for students to watch educational videos. However, when the new library opens Jan. 13, 2003, all that will change.

Gone will be the circuitous route to the library hidden upstairs. Instead, the Downtown community and students alike will know the library by the prominent new angular Hennepin entrance.

Between Maple Street and Spruce Place on Hennepin, the new glass library rises in contrast to the dark brick that comprises much of MCTC's campus. Jutting from the entrance to the crystalline box is a canopy that resembles a book laid open.

According to project architect Darryl Pratte, the symbol was not an accident. "To a certain extent, at least some of the supporting details in the library are about libraries and books. It was kind of intentional," he said.

Among those library metaphors is a granite slab, shaped like an upside down "L," that frames the entrance. "The big granite piece is more the hardback (book)," Pratte said.

Pratte is an architect with Cuningham Group, the Minneapolis architecture firm also responsible for the playful design of the Interdistrict Downtown Elementary School, 10 S. 10th St.

Pratte said part of the architects' charge was to create a building that was readily identifiable to MCTC.

MCTC president Davis explained, "In designing the library we wanted to create a new front door to the college and also create a very beautiful gateway to Downtown Minneapolis from the west."

Said project designer Pratte, "I think the hope is that it will be a building that both engages the students and engages the city and brings the two together."

The new library will have the space and the technology that the current one lacks. It will still be spread between two floors, but this time the footprint will be bigger, and the library will have an internal elevator.

Instead of sitting in the cramped classroom with too few computers, students who enroll in the information literacy and research skills course will go to class in a larger classroom where they will each use a wireless laptop. "(The wireless laptops) will provide nice flexibility for the space because you don't have to have the big computers taking up all the room on the tables," Eland said.

According to Eland, there will be more than double the number of computers in the new library, as well as wireless Internet capabilities throughout the building. There will also be study carrels with computer outlets. and a separate computer lab with 45 computers.

Library users will go from no group study rooms to eight, with two 12-person rooms and two eight-person rooms.

Funding for the new library and 3rd-floor information and technology-training center, $11.7 million, came largely from the state, according to Davis. Local philanthropist Wheelock Whitney also made a pledge of $1 million for the library's endowment.

"I think it's fitting that we name the building after Mr. Whitney," Davis said. "For our students and for the community, he symbolizes what we try to teach students about citizenship."