City, county, and state officials hosted a ribbon-cutting and reception on September 13 to celebrate the opening of the new Route 9 Library & Innovation Center, a community service hub redefining the traditional library experience with its STEM learning laboratory, black box theater, maker space, and sensory room for autistic children. Designed by global design and architecture firm Perkins+Will in collaboration with consulting and engineering firm Tetra Tech, the 43,000 square-foot center provides access to traditional library resources as well as new technologies, creative production tools, and skill development programs.
Dedicated Spaces for Learning and Creative Expression
Several distinctive rooms within the library are designed to meet the unique needs of community users. These featured spaces, together with the traditional offering of books, digital content, and reference resources, fulfill the shared aspiration of the community seeking a place to find previously unavailable services and technology:
• A Sensory Room, where visitors can modulate the levels of sensory stimulation to their personal preferences, will serve patrons with special needs including children at varying levels of the autism spectrum. Developed in partnership with Autism Delaware and designed by Perkins+Will, this is the first sensory room in the United States designed for a public library.
• The STEM Lab (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), a Media Production Studio, and the Maker Space will inspire creativity and challenge the imagination by bringing digital technology and production tools to library patrons for everyday use.
• The Scriptorium provides both children and young adults a novel learning place to hone their writing skills by using a variety of analog and digital communication tools.
• Full-Service Kitchen and Café offers healthy options for dining and provides chef-led instruction in cooking via public classes and demonstrations. In partnership with local nonprofits and schools, the kitchen will be used as a peer-to-peer training ground for those looking to enter the food service industry.
• The Lego® Room is a family space where children and adults can create together and build whatever one’s creative imagination can envision.
Design Redefines the Library and Community Connection
Inspired by the legacy of a great tree under which the New Castle communities once gathered, the new Route 9 Library & Innovation Center will be a place for all community members to discover, engage, inspire, and create. The building is meant to be transparent – welcoming and visually porous. The design utilizes a perforated metal skin, symbolic of a tree canopy that provides dappled shade, shelter, and a special place to congregate.
The vision of community leaders and library stakeholders was to create a welcoming hub with multiple public services and technology resources freely accessible for all - including schoolchildren, seniors, and community partners. The library provides a place to build professional skills, discover career opportunities, increase literacy, and provide the latest in digital technology tools to every individual.
“For generations, the public library was considered a “have-to” destination, since it was the only source for books, maps, and reference information,” says Derek Jones, a Principal of Perkins+Will. “Today, most people can access these resources from home, their office, or a coffee shop through digital technology. The Route 9 Library & Innovation Center is a “want to” destination–an exciting, vibrant, experiential, learning-focused place tailored to the needs of the community.”
Anchoring an Innovation Campus
With its distinctive design, the iconic building will serve as an anchor for planned economic development in the Innovation Campus to be developed next to the library site. Its luminous tower marks the entry to the new building and sets a precedent for the character of the planned campus development along the County’s important Route 9 corridor.
"The vision for this library extends beyond the types of services we usually associate with libraries - to create an anchor for revitalization of the Route 9 corridor, which will inspire people of all ages, interests and needs to discover, acquire new skills and ultimately to flourish," says New Castle County Department of Community Services General Manager Marcus Henry.
In addition to its dedicated rooms for instruction and creative expression, the center’s larger gathering spaces such as the black box performance theater, the multi-purpose room, and the outdoor farmer’s market are in close proximity to the planned Innovation Campus on the library’s extended site. The County is seeking proposals for new housing, business, and mixed-use development, with the Innovation Center positioned as an anchor for future uses. The services and community gathering places in the Library and Innovation Center can serve as a shared-use hub and connection point for future campus programs.
New Castle County, using the library as the connection point, is also collaborating with local schools and community groups. The county, for example, partnered with the nearby Serviam Girls Academy to integrate the library’s STEM lab into school’s regular science curriculum and with the William Penn High School’s culinary arts program to use the library’s kitchen and café.
“With its variety of services and amenities, the Route 9 Library and Innovation Center is not only spurring adjacent development ideas, it is also providing an inspiring model for other communities to reconsider the full potential of a 21st-century community library,” Derek Jones notes.