Sunday, November 13, 2005

Opening Day: The Aftermath

There have been critics who said that the city should not have spent so much money on a library that is not visited as much as the branches. First off, the system is cognizant of the traffic the branch libraries get, and that's why six big new ones were built to service areas that did not have one before (such as West Regional and Pablo Creek). Second, the top two reasons we were not visited very often (bad parking and an unattractive facility) has been remedied by this new facility and the new parking garage across the street. Also, our new location next to the Federal Courthouse and City Hall will no doubt attract people on their lunch breaks and after work to stop by and visit us. Finally, if Jacksonville is truly going to renovate and stimulate interest in downtown again, they have got to start somewhere. Call me biased, but it seems like the investing of money into a new main library is a good way to start.

Well, if the grand opening was any indication, we'll be getting the increased traffic we're looking for. I realize that these are the inflated number of an opening day on a weekend, but I don't think any of us at the library had an idea of the throngs of people who would come (according to the FTU, it was 6,000 people in the first hour). The grand staircase that reaches all five levels allows one to view the grand entrance from anywhere, especially the circulation desk where materials are checked out. At many points throughout the seven hours we were open yesterday, I looked down to see how busy it was. Even with four checkout stations fully manned, there was never a moment during that day where the lines weren't at least four or five people deep. I can't wait to see our circulation statistics.

The other area that was mob of people all day was the Children's department, and it's easy to see why. Perhaps the coolest business located downtown is the Sally Corporation, which manufactures props and animatronics for theme parks. They designed much of the Children's area and the result is pure eye candy. Of course, I'm just speaking as an adult. I can't imagine how the kids must see it. The folks in that department worked their asses of with all sorts of story time book readings throughout the day. The results, I'm sure, were a lot of excited kids eager to come back again and again.

My schedule had me doing two hours of call center duty and two hours at the third floor reference desk located next to the football field of non-fiction books (the rest of time was spent simply walking all the floors and making myself available for questions, of which I answered many). It was my opinion going in that third floor nonfiction was going to be the least used by visitors that day. After all, we don't really have the razzmatazz of children's or teen or popular fiction or even the stunning professional look of the Genealogy and Florida collections on the fourth floor.

My guess was wrong, and my two hours on desk was a nonstop fielding of questions by patrons. I told this to Mrs. Mosley and she registered surprise that people would come downtown to do research and such on a day they must have known would be a madhouse of activity. I can't speak to people's thinking on this matter, but I was guiding people to subject areas such as serial killers, the civil war, business strategies, video game tip guides, home ownership, computer programming, Shakespeare's Sonnets, and biographies of Catherine de Medici, just to name more than a few. Yes, it was tiring as hell given the amount of walking I had to do to show people where they needed to go, but it's also a basic component of my job, and I loved it for that.

Now that the day has come and gone, I am left with pride (and aching feet) from being part of it. We'll soon know after the first week if we've attracted people as regular and semi-regular visitors. Time will tell.

Postscript: Jeb and Laura Bush did not show up after all for the opening ceremonies. I was going to start that sentence with "Unfortunately", but my heart's not in it.

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