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Creating a Vision for Guelph’s New Main Library - A Conversation with Steve Kraft

by Patti Broughton

 

I had the opportunity to attend the Baker Street Redevelopment open house on November 29 at the River Run Centre. The vision for this mixed-use private and major institutional development is as a northern anchor for the downtown. It will provide a high profile location for a new main branch of Guelph Public Library, a residential tower, an institutional partner, commercial space, an urban square, and parking. I went to the meeting as the Director of Guelph Arts Council, which advocates for and supports cultural initiatives, including creative spaces.

GPL new library Windmill concept drawing
Artist's Rendering:  Baker District
Winter view of public square from library.   
Windmill Developments, Urban Equation, Diamond Schmitt and DTAH Architects

After several years of visioning, planning, and prioritizing, the City of Guelph now has the “big pieces” in place for the project, including the policy, planning, and development objectives, and has engaged Windmill as the development partner. The size of the library has been approved by Council at 88,000 ft2. Now the next step is to bring vision to reality, and the City of Guelph and Guelph Public Library are calling on Guelphites to ensure they get it right. Details on the engagement process, which includes a public workshop on January 15, can be found at haveyoursay.guelph.ca.

The public engagement for the new library is happening within the City-led process for the Baker Street Redevelopment. In the presentation of Steve Kraft, CEO of Guelph Public Library, I was excited to see features like creative space, digital labs, and flexible meeting and performance space included as examples of the “special spaces” that the new library could include, and to hear that GPL has invited the public to contribute ideas for spaces and programs.

More recently, I sat down with Steve to find out more about the vision for the new library, what it could mean for Guelph’s creative community, and how people can get involved.

Steve sees the new library as a community hub and an opportunity to celebrate Guelph’s culture and heritage. His vision is an iconic building for Guelph that will be a unique reflection of a literate and cultural community and a showcase for culture and creativity. They are now figuring out how the space will be divided for archives (“the jewel in the crown”), collections, programming, and creative space. Some of the features envisioned include much-needed affordable meeting space, that could also be used for teaching, workshops, and performances, as well as exhibition space, terraced outdoor program space, and digital labs that will allow library users to test drive cutting-edge technology. The new facility will serve our growing community into the future by tripling the size of the current main branch, allowing for increased and expanded programs.

As Steve notes, library users – including children and youth – are more likely to experience success in their academic, professional, and personal lives than other people. For GPL’s staff, the new library will mean new energy and creative ideas in delivering a greater variety of programs to a greater number of adults, seniors, children and youth in Guelph. These programming innovations won’t be limited to the new library downtown, but will spread into the branches in other neighbourhoods. The new library will also create opportunities for new partnerships, including with the creative community. As Steve says, “partnerships will be the success of the new library.”

The intensive portion of the stakeholder engagement process for the new library, and the full Baker Street project, will continue through January. Steve expects the full process to continue through the early spring, when GPL will reflect the input back to the community to ensure they’ve got it right. Guelph residents – including those of us working in Guelph’s cultural and creative community – can get involved by attending the January 15 workshop, completing comment cards at any GPL branch, contributing to the graffiti wall at the Main branch, responding to an upcoming online survey, and sharing comments through haveyoursay.guelph.ca. In submitting their ideas, Steve encourages library users to think about how they use the library now, how they would like to use it (perhaps as a gathering spot with friends, colleagues or visitors to Guelph?), how they get there, and how they may have used a library in other communities. If artistic creation or experiencing the arts is an important part of your life, think about how the new library could potentially serve you, and have your say.

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