The line of people waiting to enter the new Champaign Public Library stretched down the sidewalk shortly before its 1 p.m. grand opening Sunday.
Library employees were lined up on either side of the entrance, applauding, as the doors opened and people entered the new library. Soon, it was jam-packed with patrons checking out the building – and checking out books, DVDs and CDs.
"It's a good thing it's big," said library Director Marsha Grove as she surveyed the crowd.
"This is marvelous. How could you not be excited by this?" she continued. "We've been waiting a long time for this."
The reaction of many who were looking the building over Sunday was the same. It's big, open and bright.
"It's really huge. I didn't think it was going to be this big," said 18-year-old Alexis Johnson, adding she didn't feel too crowded even with a large number of people in the building Sunday.
The library is 122,000 square feet, three times the size of the old library, and has more than 37,000 new items.
Randy Hawkins and his sons Judah and Isaac were among the first people inside. They actually had a sneak peek in December, because Hawkins' wife drives the Bookmobile.
Hawkins said it may take everyone a while to find everything in the new building.
"We're so used to one floor and everything grouped together," he said. "This is so impressive."
He spotted what he thinks will be a nice, quiet spot to sit, in the adult fiction section on the second floor.
Johnson said she liked the chairs lining the windows on the second floor.
"It seems like it will really encourage sitting down and curling up with a book," she said. "It's great. I love it."
Gene Rose said he plans to make use of the study rooms to read. He and his wife, Betty, were checking out city directories and old high school yearbooks in the reference section.
"It's fabulous," Betty Rose said of the new building. "It's open and light. I love that."
In the first-floor children's section, kids were reading at little tables or sprawled on the floor. Others were playing with the activities in one corner, or dancing to the music of percussionists performing in the story room.
Jennifer Tee, a literacy specialist at Kenwood Elementary School in Champaign, was with her husband, Darren, their three children and a niece. The kids were reading at a table piled with books. The oldest child, 8-year-old Caroline, brought her own library card and a bag for hauling the books to the checkout area.
"It's really cool," she said of the library. "The kids can actually reach most of the books."
Her mom also liked what she saw in the children's section, with its low shelves.
"It looks very child-focused," Jennifer Tee said. "I like the way, as a parent, I can see across the room and see my children. And I love the enthusiasm of the staff. They make it pretty exciting."
Chris and Mindy Tidrick and their 5-year-old son, Jacob, were also sitting and reading at a small table in the children's section.
"It's bright. It's colorful," Mindy Tidrick said of the area. "It's almost overwhelming right now. It's so spacious, so comfortable and friendly and open."
The Tidricks are library regulars, visiting at least twice a week.
"We've been going through withdrawal since they closed" the old building, Chris Tidrick said. "We told Jacob, 'There's no hurry today. We'll stay here as long as you want to.'"
Older kids were enjoying the library, too. Jennifer Collins, 13, and Ashley Parker, 11, were using a computer, looking at Jennifer's MySpace account. Jennifer described the new library as "absolutely amazing."
"There's a lot more space, and it's separated into sections so the teens can be separated away from the little kids and the adults," she said.
The library's teen area has more computers and – Ashley's favorite – a Nintendo Wii.
Kevin Garton and Sean Bullamore, both 16 and juniors at Central High School, stood near the Wii as a group of younger boys played a tennis game.
"It's pretty hip," Garton said of the teen room. "I think it's pretty cool, but I'd like to play something other than tennis" on the Wii. "The video-game collection is pretty sweet."
Sean also liked the room.
"This place looks so fresh and so clean," he said.
Raman Kumari thinks a library is important to a community, both for providing access to books and information and as a social gathering spot. She described the new library as "gorgeous."
"I'm so excited having a place like this," Kumari said.
She also appreciated the friendly staff. She said their offers of help will make those with limited English skills feel more comfortable.
Grove said she hopes everyone comes back in the next few weeks, when the building is less crowded, to become familiar with it.