Cincinnati Main Library gets a makeover

What’s there to do at the new downtown library?

Remember back in the day, when Mom or Dad would drive you downtown to the Main library for your eighth-grade science project? You’d trek up to Science and Industry, find a few magazine articles in the 50-pound Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, drop off your request slips at the desk and wait for your number to light up so you could retrieve your scientific journals and start photocopying?

The main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County works a little differently these days.

"We noticed that people were using the building differently from the past," says library spokesperson Emily Mueller. After two years’ worth of surveys, focus groups and community interviews, the Ml/21 strategic plan—a Main Library for the 21st century—emerged.

"[It’s] customer-focused, pro-active, designed specifically for today’s users, while emphasizing convenience and increased access to a broad spectrum of technology," spokesperson Mueller says. In February, staff unveiled the transformed library with dramatically restructured departments, patron-friendly additions and an all-around brighter atmosphere.

Here are some of the cool new things you and your family can do there:

1. Get your pop fiction fix. Whether you get your jollies from John Grisham or Good Housekeeping, the new first-floor Popular Library has the fiction, movies, CDs, magazines and large print titles you want. "It’s a one-stop, quick-in-quick-out spot," Mueller says. "It’s perfect for the lunch and after-work crowds to dash in." If you want to stick around for a bit, shelves have been moved away from the windows, so there’s plenty of natural light to read by.

2. Play Guitar Hero. You definitely would’ve been shushed for this back in the day. The cool new 8,000-square-foot TeenSpot has the latest in young-adult lit, computers (for science projects and downloading music, in addition to playing video games), a comfy lounging area, room for CosPlays and other cutting-edge programs, a teen volunteer corps and more.

3. Go surfing. Maybe you won’t catch a wave in the Queen City, but you can do plenty of Web surfing in the library’s second-floor Technology Center. You also can hop on one of nearly 100 computers for working on that science report, crafting your resume, searching the library’s catalog and research databases, downloading books and music, and burning CDs. If you don’t know a mouse from a monitor, staff can help.

4. Retain your sanity. Your kid’s algebra assignment giving you fits? In Homework Central, teachers and volunteers offer help in person, on the phone, via e-mail or over the Internet. Just-for-students reference material and computers with word-processing, presentation and other software are on hand, too. Friday-night programs cover time management, study skills and more.

5. Learn something. Nonfiction resources previously divided among five library departments now exist harmoniously together in Information and Reference. Look here for publications about cooking, gardening, health, sports, parenting, car repair, business, jobs, art, crafts, science, travel--that kind of thing. Need help? Head for the second-floor reference desk or, Mueller advises, jog up a flight and look for the "Roving reference staff" that go where the questions are.

6. Find an ancestor. Did you know our very own library has one of the best family history research collections of any public library in the country? The Genealogy and Local History department houses the microfilmed censuses, passenger lists, city directories and other records that might have Great-grandma’s name. You’ll also find information on Rookwood Pottery, the Cincinnati Reds, early settlers and more, plus rare 18-century books in the climate-controlled Cincinnati Room.

7. Do something new. Programs at the downtown library and branch locations let you read to a dog, listen to jazz and do other things you maybe never thought you’d do at a library: This year, certified therapy dogs periodically visit the Children's Learning Center, and the occasional Saturday has musicians strumming or plucking out tunes. Search the online calendar by date, event type or branch location.

8. Find fellow bookworms. Love to read? You also can check out the online calendar to find book discussion groups in a variety of genres that meet all over town. The classics book club gets together downtown; fans of mysteries, african-american literature, crime novels, teen books and others convene at various branches.

9. Conquer corporate America. In the Small Business Resource Center—part of the Information and Reference Department--research your brilliant business plan, find out what potential competitors are up to and get the legal forms you need to get your business off the ground.

10. Stay home. That’s right: Thanks to a grant, the wonders of modern technology, and a scanner that’s smarter than you, you can access digitized historical and rare materials in the Virtual Library. That includes books such as the Report of the First Anniversary of the Anti-Slavery Society, April 1836; The Black Brigade of Cincinnati (published in 1864 about an African-American Civil War unit raised here) and old Cincinnati city directories. Those are like telephone books, so you can look up your great-great-grandparents who lived in Cincy.

Lest you get lost inside the rearranged Main library, check out the online maps for each department and do some reconnaissance by taking a video tour. And so you don’t stray off course between home and there, get online and print off the driving directions, map and where-to-park information.

Photography by Scott Beseler

When Cincinnati native Diane Haddad isn’t working as a magazine editor or polishing up a freelance writing project, she’s volunteering with Give Back Cincinnati, recycling, trying to make something grow in her garden or playing with her dog, Janie.

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