A library reimagined – that’s what comes to mind when you set foot into the newly reopened Stanley A. Milner Library. Excited guests stream through the doors, spray on some hand-sanitizer, and get to exploring. And there’s plenty to explore. The library, which celebrated its grand opening from Sept. 17 through to the 20th, boasts a contemporary space with three innovative stories, a Children’s library – triple the original size, two Makerspaces, an interactive digital wall, the Thunderbird House, and soon, an educational kitchen. Of course, the Milner Library is still home to over 150,000 books, magazines, and films. With a line of never-ending window seats, almost half a floor of fiction, and forward-thinking architecture, I never wanted to leave. This is evidently a common theme with people who visit the new library which will likely continue, especially once the café opens. As Arthur, a guest of the library, jokingly remarks when I ask him what he thinks of the new space: “I want to live here.”
I wander around the first floor and stop by the Thunderbird House, an Indigenous gathering space. With white poplar panelling and comfortable cushions shaped like rocks, the atmosphere is safe, welcoming, and a place to celebrate and teach Indigenous culture. It is also the first indoor public space in Edmonton to support smudging.
The Fresh Finds section around the corner features book recommendations from Marty Chan, Mayor Don Iveson, and more. One of the titles on Mayor Iveson’s shelf is Between the World and Me written by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Jana Pruden, an award-winning journalist and feature writer for the Globe and Mail, suggests Susin Nielsen’s We Are All Made of Molecules; and Giselle Courteau, enthusiastic Edmontonian baker, and co-owner of Duchess Bake Shop, recommends The Flavour Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Fresh Finds is an interesting behind-the-scenes look at topics and ideas that resonate with these well-known Edmontonians.
The artwork in the library is particularly stunning. I spoke to Robyn, another first-time visitor, while she was browsing the “Read Local” section, and she agreed: “You walk in and see all these accessible, beautiful pieces.” Ricardo Copado’s mural: “The Journey Beyond; Boundaries of Imagination” outside of the children’s library is my personal favourite, with its colourful panels depicting whimsical imaginings of animals, buildings, and Edmonton landmarks. The librarian slyly handed me a mural scavenger hunt to complete as I waited in line for the children’s library, but I was happy for any excuse to stare at the piece longer (and yes, I did find two Walterdale Bridges). Other artwork throughout the library includes a large heart, cleverly constructed out of paper flowers created by the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) community, and Peter von Tiesenhausen’s “Things I Knew to Be True,” which has deep symbolic meaning that is open to interpretation.
Robyn also noted that “the architecture and design of the library is very thoughtful.” EPL worked with Temple Architects to design a space that would “actively (support) the library’s position as a key social and creative hub, (enhance) EPL’s goals of openness and welcoming in the community, and (take) advantage of the building’s prominent location in Edmonton’s city centre”, according to the EPL Press Kit. The original project goal was to revitalize the library that Edmonton had outgrown, but EPL also saw an opportunity to create a new space that would bring Edmontonians together. With over 600 windows, natural light floods the space creating a warm and inviting atmosphere, and open sight lines provide great views of the library itself and the Edmonton skyline beyond. The layout makes you feel small, yet part of something wonderful.
The new children’s library has fun, imagination, and learning all rolled into one designated space on the main floor. With rolling hills for crawling, a gigantic floor piano to dance on, and thousands of books to enjoy, the children’s library can bring out the child in anyone. And no one will be doing any shushing. Olivera Paravalos and her son thought the children’s library was one of the coolest parts of the new building, and Olivera remarked that “there are so many different things from when I was a kid!” She was particularly impressed by all the technology that was available to children. “They even have Switch games – they’ve really gone digital.” The children’s library also houses a Makerspace for kids. There are over 25,000 Lego pieces, a ridiculously long marble run, and even robots! If only I had access to that marble-run when I was a kid. Okay, the robots would have been cool too.
The focal point of the library is the interactive simulation wall (or simply “The Wall”). On Sunday Sept. 20, the Wall was home to the Dino Zoo, although other programs include a simulated version of the Great Barrier Reef and a virtual wind tunnel called SimFlow. People gathered around the lush prehistoric forest and watched the stegosaurus make its way from one end of the screen to the other. More than a few precautionary steps backward were taken as the T-Rex stomped a little closer. Guests could also chip away at digital fossils and click on dinosaurs as they scampered past to learn more information about them. I asked library visitor Bemnet, who wanted to be referred to by his first name, what his favourite part about the library was and he told me, “I like the downstairs the best. The wall is really cool”. His dad chimed in, adding that the dinosaurs were really interesting to watch, and that the design was attractive to look at. According to the Stanley A. Milner Library Press Kit, the Wall is the biggest digital exhibit in North America, and a fantastic way to promote hands-on learning, or add dimension — literally — to a presentation. Spanning multiple stories and requiring 12 computers to run, the effect is quite breathtaking.
The library has also made a large effort to be accessible to everyone. A winding ramp, lined on either side with bundles of rainbow balloons for the grand opening, replaces a staircase between the second and third floors. It is suspended over the atrium, offering a bird’s eye view of the library below, and a gorgeous glimpse at coloured skylights above. I watch as group after group stop in the middle of the ramp to stare out at the surrounding library, and take pictures of the ridiculously photogenic space.
The second and third floors are home to rows and rows of bookshelves. I asked Isabella Espinoza, a guest of the library, what she liked best about the space, and her answer was classic and simple: “I like the books! The books are my favourite.” She’s happy that they have such a spacious and beautiful place to live, when they’re not with her, that is. The Gamerspace and a Makerspace for adults are also located on the second floor, and the Makerspace gives guests the opportunity to use a recording studio (for music or for podcasts), sewing machines, a vinyl cutter, 3D printers, and various construction tools.
There are also plenty of study spaces for students. With comfy armchairs, window seats, tucked away tables, and even some wire chairs vaguely resembling art, there is no shortage of space to pull out your laptop or crack open a good book. I would recommend checking out the dinosaurs before starting on that research essay, though.
“I think it’s gorgeous,” Avau Fast, a first-time guest at the library, tells me while she surveys the space around her. “It’s really well done. It’s a place for learning – for all ages. It doesn’t matter what age you are, there’s something for everyone.” She tells me she’s in her 80’s, but is still excited by and in awe of the new space. “There’s all this new technology and design, and this library is a world of its own. You can spend so much time here.”
The new Stanley A. Milner Library is a symbol of community. It was built from the generous donations of the Edmonton public, which ended up exceeding $18 million ($8 million over EPL’s initial fundraising goal), and is a space dedicated to bringing people together. Check out the new building when you get a chance! You won’t be disappointed.