If you haven’t been in a library in the past few years, the new Sterling Library may not look very familiar to you.
Long aisles of books still line the carpeted floors. But they are interspersed with modern furniture, lighted by eco-friendly solar tubes, and surrounded by high-tech conference rooms, study spaces, and a dedicated teen room with all the latest video game consoles.
Branch Manager Katie Kalil said the newest branch of the Loudoun County Public Library is a pilot for a lot of ideas.
“When they were originally planning the design of this facility, they did several community meetings to let the Sterling Park citizens have a choice in what’s going to be in the library, and what’s the need in the community,” Kalil said.
That has resulted in a library with a focus on flexibility. It has a makerspace with everything from 3D printers, to machines for digitizing old VHS and film videos, to sewing machines and equipment.
It also means having a staff that speaks a variety of languages. Kalil said the library has focused on that when hiring, and depending on some pending hires, it could have close to 10 different languages represented in its staff on opening day Saturday. The library has a big focus on Spanish, the second most spoken language in the Sterling area. Four people on staff are at least conversant in Spanish, and three are fluent.
“One of the recommendations that we had from the community is primary language books, rather than translations,” Kalil said. “If you’re not a native speaker, it can be hard to decide which [books] are good and which ones you don’t need.”
So in addition to the native Spanish speakers on staff—one of whom, Patricia Pacheco, was recently awarded the national Paralibrarian of the Year award—the library hired a Spanish language consultant to help visitors pick works originally written in Spanish. And in addition to the books and other works on the shelves, the library will have a website entirely in Spanish with hundreds of e-books and audiobooks.
A large room in the back can be subdivided, reserved for meetings, or used to host movie screenings, with two large screens and sound. Members of the community said they needed more computers, since the library is where many of them go to apply for jobs, do test preparation, or do homework, so the library has nearly tripled the number of computers at the old Sterling library.
The idea is to take all this and make the library the new hangout space—especially for teens after school, in a dedicated space with graphic novels and plenty of power outlets.
“It’s got everything, from the education aspects to just the sheer fun,” Kalil said. “Having the sense of the library as a fun place to be is something that you really want to foster in that age group. You have them when they’re kids, because their parents bring them, and you have them when they’re parents, but you can lose them in between.”
The branch manager’s office overlooks the teen room to make sure everyone’s safe, and there are glass doors that can close to keep any noise from interrupting another event—rather than shushing the people in there.
The library is packed with little but remarkable innovations, like a book drop that automatically checks books back in and prints a receipt, or a small sound booth with recording equipment and instruments patrons can borrow.
Sterling Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D) said the library is kick-starting revitalization both in the Sterling Plaza shopping center and across Sterling Park.
“We have the new fire station and rescue center in the design phase right now, and the new Sterling community center where the library just moved out,” Saines said. He said there are also facelifts ongoing in the shopping plaza and coming to the nearby Jeff Cobb baseball diamond.
“We have a very diverse population in Sterling,” said Saines, whose office publishes many of its announcements and newsletters in both English and Spanish. “So I’m glad to see that we’re going to be catering to all walks of life and all nationalities and different languages.”
If you were thinking of a library as forbidding aisles of books and stern librarians shushing people, the Sterling Library will be a surprise. But don’t worry—there are plenty of rooms and cubbies to get some quiet.
Library cards are free to anyone who lives, works, goes to school, or owns property or a business in Loudoun County, and can be applied for at any branch or online at library.loudoun.gov.