CHAMPAIGN – Penny Shaw says she couldn't be happier with the new $28.6 million Champaign Public Library.
A weekly visitor to the library at 200 W. Green St., Shaw said she reads three to five books a week, mostly fiction and biographies.
"I love it," she said about the new 122,000-square-foot facility. "I'm here every week.
"It's spacious. It's modern. It's easy to use. It's wonderful."
Open since Jan. 6, the library still isn't quite finished, but it's getting close.
The building is done, but work continues on the parking lot and front sidewalk. But that phase is entering its final weeks as well.
"It should have been done by now, but it's been so rainy," said library Director Marsha Grove. "Whenever I set a date, the rain proves me wrong every time."
Grove is now predicting the parking lot should be wrapped up in July. The north half of the parking lot is mostly completed, though the front 12-foot-wide sidewalk to the library is still being poured this week. The sidewalk will run from State to Randolph streets.
Come this Monday, the sidewalk and north parking lot will open to the public, and patrons will no longer have to walk around the perimeter of the lot. A fence around the north parking lot will be removed.
Work will then begin on updating the parking lot's south half. That will entail extending tree islands to the south and paving over the rough asphalt surface. Once the tree islands are built, Grove predicted that it will only take two days to lay the new asphalt.
Once the entire lot is completed, it will have 197 parking spaces, compared with 130 spaces now.
The new parking lot will include entrances and exits on Randolph and State streets. What library officials are calling Clara Lane, named by the library's largest donor (who wishes to remain anonymous), will directly run in front of the facility, she said.
As might be expected with a new, larger facility, library use is up substantially since the January opening, Grove said.
The library now averages about 2,000 patrons per day, up from about 1,600 at the old library, a 25 percent increase. The number of items checked out each month is up about 30 percent, with the highest month seeing 200,000 items checked out.
Champaign now averages about 30 items checked out annually for each resident. That compares to a 9 items per-capita national average, Grove said.
One of the most popular new features at the library is TeenSpace, a room for teens which has prompted a 60 percent increase in circulation for teen materials.
"We didn't really have a room for teens before," said Grove. "Now every day, that's pretty much filled."
Children's fiction circulation also is up 40 percent with the much larger children's section.
"I think it's really good for the community our children are reading and this new building may have caused kids to read more," Grove said.
The library also offers wireless Internet access.
The library is planning a second grand opening party on July 27, when the parking lot and landscaping are expected to be complete, to be called "Three Cheers for the Library." It will include music and free gifts for children at 1 p.m.; words of dedication at 1:15 p.m.; and a 2 p.m. talk by Carol Ross Barney, the library's architect, in the Robeson Pavilion Room A & B, where she will discuss the library's environmentally friendly design.