Long-awaited library opens downtown, with sweeping views of the urban landscape

One thing you notice immediately upon stepping inside the new downtown library is, well … the rest of downtown. Every floor-to-ceiling window in the newly opened River Center branch showcases some facet of the cityscape.

There’s the historic Old State Capitol standing proudly to the west, the bustle of Galvez Plaza just outside the north entrance, and you can catch a glimpse of the Mississippi River bridge from the top floor’s southern-facing windows.

But look within, and you’ll see the city there, too. The walls are adorned with mural-sized maps of Baton Rouge from the ’60s and of the river and all its incremental course changes over time.

The second floor is entirely dedicated to children, and nearly everything is on wheels so the space can be reconfigured based on activities. The small green stools at each table are designed to “wiggle” along with the fidgety kids who use them.

Most windows offer a show-stopping view of downtown, equipped with perforated aluminum sunshades to keep glare at a minimum. “With all of these windows facing west, north and east, it’s going to be a 6-foot socially distant sea of people sitting all across all three sides of this building,” Stein says.

“The river informed the way Baton Rouge developed—and still does,” says Mary Stein, assistant director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system. “We knew we had to have that connection to the river, and also needed to make sure we fit in with other buildings downtown.”

Making this shiny new four-story library fit in with downtown took nearly four years. The previous boxy, concrete library structure was torn down in late summer 2016, and the new building ran into some serious obstacles along the way. Its cantilevered upper floors, balancing over a massive entrance plaza, suffered a structural failure in 2018 that halted work for more than a year.

COVID-19 caused further delays, preventing deliveries of much of the library’s furnishings. But even though safety precautions have stilted the full library experience, it finally opened in late June. As of press time, librarians are retrieving books for visitors and seating is limited, but it’s still welcoming the public.

“Just like with the Main Library, it’s all about striking a balance between ideas we get from the public,” Stein says. “What can this one building accomplish? We eked as much as we could out of every possible square footage here. But we’re also planning for the future, because we won’t build this again. It needs to have the right infrastructure so that it can reinvent itself in the future.” ebrpl.com

The third floor is geared toward teenagers and adults, with casual reading areas and private study rooms. The biggest draw here are the “creating” spaces, such as a media/recording studio for music production and podcasting, a digital lab and a “maker space” for everything from 3D printing to holding arts and crafts classes.
The fourth floor of the library features an outdoor terrace with sweeping views of downtown and a greenery wall of star jasmine. There are also several large conference rooms that can be rented out for corporate meetings, fundraising galas and other events. “We wanted to make the library not just for downtown but for everyone,” Stein says. “Everything that we learned at any other branch, we put in here. We’re constantly raising the bar and providing things that people aren’t expecting.”

This article was originally published in the August 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.