Every city deserves a great library – and Columbus is the home of one of the greatest in the nation. The Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) is a great source of civic pride for our city; our cultural heritage would be poorer without it. Since its opening more than a century ago, the CML has played a key role in our city’s identity as smart and open place as we’ve grown and adapted respectively to competing on the national stage.
The Main Library opened to the public in 1907 and is now part of a 21-location system throughout Franklin County that is nationally recognized as one of the premier library systems in the United States. The CML has been honored with awards for excellence for its children’s programming, homework and job help centers, marketing, social media efforts and more. It always tops the Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings and is one of only 10 libraries in the country to have made the Top 10 list all 10 times the rating system has existed, including four #1 ratings.
In 2010 the CML earned the distinction of National Library of the Year, a prestigious recognition that goes to the one public library in the United States that most profoundly demonstrates service to community, creativity and innovation in developing specific community programs and leadership in creating programs that can be emulated by others. In 2011, the CML was honored with the National Medal for Museum and Library Service from The Institute of Museum and Library Services – the nation’s highest honor for community service initiatives in libraries and museums.
The CML offers much-needed resources for our community; their literacy and homework assistance programs educate young minds and their job help centers get people back to work by providing basic computer instruction, assistance with job applications and resumes. The Main Library hosts close to 1,000 children’s and teen programs each year, genealogy workshops and orientations to business, grants and careers research and more.
We all know that due to the technology boom of the past few decades, libraries are no longer confined to brick and mortar. Libraries around the world now have elaborate interactive web pages, databases, downloadable books and some have downloadable movies. Patrons can reserve and renew books and DVDs online.
From a business standpoint, the CML understands that to serve the public, they need to stay a step ahead of trends and advances in technology and offer patrons what they want and how they want to use it. It’s changing the way libraries do business and keeping traditional and technologically savvy patrons satisfied can be a challenge – but the CML is obviously up to the task.
The CML has offered eBooks for several years and continues to increase their budget in that area to meet the need of customers. As of March, CML cardholders now have free access from a smart phone, tablet or web browser to more than 300,000 movies, television shows, audiobooks, music and more through a pilot program with a service called Hoopla. They also offer Zinio, which allows customers to download magazines to their phone, iPad or eReader for free.
While these technological amenities are becoming standard elements in modern libraries around the world, people still need human contact.
The CML is more than an informational and educational center. It’s a destination library that has woven itself into our community. As it says on the outside of the building, it is “Open to All”—a place where people can come together to meet, socialize, solve common problems in a shared space that’s separate from home or work. Performance, visual arts, literature, history, discussion, innovative thought and more are part and parcel of what can be found at the CML. It’s a place that cultivates the pursuit of lifelong learning and discovery within out community.
And, of course, having a great and friendly staff that can help teach the use of the library and its vast resources, evaluate information amidst the overwhelming flow, suggest new reading/viewing/listening tips is also key to the CML’s success. The CML staff is dedicated and determined to make a difference for the community—and that means building a strong foundation with savvy strategic planning and marketing, staying on top of consumer research and listening to patrons. This foundation gives librarians better tools, making the library an even greater resource for the community. The CML prides itself on its “outward facing” programming. For example, the Ready to Read program is a first-of-its-kind initiative that takes the program’s staff out of the library and into communities where staff can better reach parents and caregivers to educate them about how they can work with their kids and prepare them for kindergarten.
Arts at the Library
The CML understands that live performances and engaging programs are a great lure for patrons. In addition to convenient access to the best in education and information, the CML’s arts and cultural programs fit well with its traditional offerings. The library features art exhibitions, concerts and other performances that highlight unique local treasures, artistic talents and displays of historical interest in a common area for all to see, enjoy, helping to build a greater appreciation and pride for community.
The CML has a long tradition of presenting arts programs. More than 100 years ago, the CML featured the Ohio Art League’s (OAL) first exhibition.
According to Chuck Cody, CML’s manager of the arts & media division, before the Columbus Museum of Art (the called the Gallery of Fine Arts) established their own building in 1931, their collection was housed at the Main Library.
With the support of the Friends of the Library, the Main Library’s Carnegie Gallery, which opened in 2008, creates unique cultural experiences for visitors by presenting quality art exhibitions that are free, open to all and feature the best work of both emerging and established artists.
Cody and local artist and curator, Stephanie Rond, oversee the gallery.
“We opened the gallery so that we could give artists a venue to share their work as well as bring art to a part of the community that might not have the chance to interact with art,” said Rond. “Libraries aren’t just about books; they’re community centers and a resource for all types of communication. Visual literacy is the bridge to text literacy; one only needs to look at a picture book for proof.”
The Carnegie Gallery, which received a project support grant from GCAC in 2012, partners with local, non-profit arts organizations such as ROY G BIV, OAL, Art in House, TRANSIT ARTS, Wexner Center, German Village Art League, Goodwill, Open Door Studios, Hilliard schools, Creative Arts of Women (CAW), Columbus Torah Academy and more.
“We have some standbys that we’ve hosted often, but we try to have new partners every year,” said Cody. “We try to feature a variety of work, including work by traditionally under-represented groups. Open Door Studio’s exhibition, for example, featured work by artists with disabilities. Every year we host the OOVAR exhibition, featuring the work of artists from the Ohio Online Visual Artist Registry, a database of Ohio artists created and maintained by the Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Ohio Arts Council, which is a juried show featuring cash awards for Juror’s Choice and a People’s Choice. The prize money is generously provided by the Friends of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.”
Cody said that the Friends of the Library have been amazingly supportive of the Main Library’s arts programming.
“They fund catered receptions for each exhibition and money every year for the OOVAR prizes. And because we failed to get a grant this year for her professional curatorial and installation services, the FOL stepped up with funding so that we could still keep Stephanie on board while we continue to seek other grants.
Tim Katz, the community arts education director for the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (OAAE) has worked with the Main Library and Carnegie Gallery for several years—featuring Art in the House and TRANSIT ARTS art exhibitions and performances.
Through Art in the House, OAAE and partners TRANSIT ARTS and the Columbus Federation of Settlements connect local artists, arts and cultural organizations and independent arts education programs into a comprehensive network of accessible opportunities for students in grades kindergarten through 12. Special focus is placed on the needs of children during out-of-school hours, such as afternoons, evenings, and weekends and during the summer.
Katz said the Carnegie Gallery has featured an Art in the House art exhibition for an entire month each spring.
“The exhibitions started out as collaboration between the Frank Museum at Otterbein and GCAC board member, Nicholas Hill, back when Art in the House was still a part of GCAC’s arts education programming” said Katz.
Art in the House kids traveled to the Frank Museum to see their exhibitions and created artwork that was inspired by the shows they saw at the museum.
“One year, the Frank showed vessels from around the world,” said Katz. “The art teachers and kids all get involved in the process and the kids come up with some great ideas and creative interpretations of a vessel; a thing that holds something. Like shoes; how you feel walking around in your shoes; how it affects your mood. Or your head; filled with dreams and hopes. It was an excellent concept and really got the kids thinking creatively.”
The CML Carnegie Gallery shows have evolved and expanded to other ideas. Last year, the Poetry in Motion exhibition featured works by the kids based on poetry and historical figures like Rosa Parks. Among the works that were featured at the gallery, six were chosen to be displayed on COTA buses throughout the city.
The most recent exhibition which ran through March entitled We Like Aminah, was inspired by local legendary artist, Aminah Robinson.
“The art wasn’t meant to copy Aminah’s work, but to show the inspiration that comes from some of the key elements that show up in her work again and again – family, community, neighborhoods,” said Katz.
Katz couldn’t say enough about how amazing the staff and FOL have been to work with over the years.
“The Friends of the Library have made the exhibitions even better—they create a real art opening with family, friends, some of the staff from Settlement Houses,” said Katz. “Members of the Friends of the Library even show up. They fund the whole thing for the receptions—food and drinks. It really means a lot to everyone.”
“Even when we’ve come up with ideas like the flash mob that we did when the program was with GCAC—which took a lot of coordination and preparation—the staff is always open and excited about making it happen,” said Katz. “They’re always accommodating, receptive, inclusive, creative – and friendly! Obviously I can’t say enough great things about them.”
Renovations and Plans to Expand
When visiting the main library downtown, anyone can see that in addition to its impressive collection, many great services and friendly, helpful staff, the CML was built to inspire; it is a stunningly beautiful building on a beautiful site, uniquely situated next to another of our city’s historic gems – the Topiary Park.
An urban, seven-acre park, the Topiary Park includes traditional park features such as sidewalks, benches, flowerbeds, and landscaping; but the jewel of the park is the topiary garden—a sculptural interpretation by Columbus artist James T. Mason (and his wife Elaine, also an artist) of Georges Seurat’s famous Post-Impressionist painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte.
The CML’s Board of Trustees has approved the sale of the old Deaf School – located right next to the Topiary Park and a recent CML acquisition – to Cristo Rey Columbus High School.
“It will be the 26th school in the network of highly acclaimed Cristo Rey private, Catholic college preparatory high schools throughout the nation,” said Gregg Dodd, marketing director for CML. “We’re thrilled that our new neighbor will be a strong partner in education and further support the library’s purpose and vision of expanding young minds.”
Library officials are considering extending the library building to the east and creating an outdoor terrace area that overlooks Topiary Park, owned by the city of Columbus.
Dodd said the CML plans on keeping the land and parking lot between Main Library and Topiary Park in their plan to create green space and an outdoor reading room for library customers, much like the relationship between New York Public Library and Bryant Park.
As the CML continues to evolve, adapt and expand to meet the highest standards of education and accessibility, it will stand as a Columbus institution to be enjoyed by generations to come.
The next show in the Carnegie Gallery (April 4 – May 24, 2013) is Transitions, featuring the art of Mother Artists at Work. To see more of the 2013 schedule for the gallery, go to the Friends of the Library website.
Read more in a Dispatch article about CML’s recently opened YouMedia Teens area where customers are using Mac technology to develop movies, animation and music.
Images: Carnegie Gallery, courtesy of CML; from We Like Aminah exhibition, photo by Jennifer Sadler; rendering of expansion, courtesy of CML.
|Now Playing: Mark Rothko at CMA|