The New Forsyth County Central Library: A Library of the 21st-Century

There is something exciting about walking into a library. With all the books, creative spaces, and programs, the building can open up a world of opportunities. Within our area, we have several libraries where people can discover the world around them, and one of those spaces has just been recently renovated. The Forsyth County Central Library in downtown Winston-Salem underwent a three-year facelift. Located on Fifth Street, the library reopened its doors in August 2017 and showed off its new building and services to the public.

“The first library was built downtown in 1952 and in the early 1980s, an addition was included. By the time 2000 came around, the Central Library was tired and out of date. We tried to do small renovations on a small budget and all of our money went to infrastructure. Around 2010, Forsyth County voters passed a bond of $40 million dollars. $28 million of that was allotted for the Central Library with $6 million apportioned to rebuild the Clemmons and Kernersville branches,” stated Forsyth County Public Library Associate Director, Elizabeth Skinner.

A plan to open with a brand new library in three years was created. Raleigh-based Ratio Architects was hired and a visionary process began, looking at people’s wants and needs, and including input from key stakeholders. In addition, the team was keen on re-visioning a library for the future, while maintaining old areas.

“Although the Central Library project was classified as a renovation project, the Library was practically rebuilt from the ground up. The 1952 structure was demolished. The only items used from the old library were the steel structure of the 1982 addition, and 5% of the original shelving and furniture. Everything else was brand new,” Skinner commented.

The 2017 rebuilding of the Central Library grew the building to 13,000 square feet and includes more open space. According to Skinner, the space is light and airy, allowing security and staff to see throughout the whole building. Also, visitors can take in the sights of downtown Winston-Salem through the big windows. New areas added are the makerspace, a fine art collection gallery space, collaborative meeting rooms, and more. The library maintains its popular spaces, such as the North Carolina Collection, the children’s section, and Teen Central, as well as the materials and reference departments.

“In the makerspace, people can complete low technology activities, such as sewing, and high technology activities, such as 3D printing and robotics. The Central Library has a fine art collection that has been endowed by the Hanes family since the 1950s, but the collection was not displayed well. The collection has been cleaned and restored and art is carefully placed throughout the new library. The new Central Library also features collaborative technology in the 289-seat auditorium, a 10-seat conference room, and four small meeting rooms. A sound production room can be reserved for recording small music performances and podcasts. Lastly, we have a 40-seat computer lab and an 18-seat computer training lab,” stated Skinner.

More changes incorporated are a green screen with lighting and video equipment in the Teen Central department and twice the square footage added to the children’s section.

“In my opinion, the Children’s Library improved 300% with better accessibility for families. We are still learning our new technology and growing into our space. Still, about 500-600 people per month are touring our facilities. Soon, we’ll be starting back our special programming. The library is designed to sponsor after-hour events,” Skinner responded.

The public’s reaction to the new Central Library has been thrilling and positive. People of all ages and walks of life are enjoying the library’s new features, especially one particular group – the millennials.

“Downtown is growing and old buildings are being restored which has encouraged more people to move to the area. We are seeing an increase in people 20-30 years old who use the library.   Many people bring their own laptops and personal devices to utilize the Library’s Wi-Fi and powered furniture. The Central Library has reinvented itself and achieved the goal of becoming a 21st-century library,” expressed Skinner.


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