A rendering of the newly renovated Salem Public Library. (Courtesy/Hacker Architects)

By the end of the summer, book enthusiasts will again be able to peruse shelves and read the back cover of books as the Salem Public Library construction nears an end.

For more than a year, the main library has been closed for a seismic retrofit to make the building more resilient in the event of an earthquake. It was financed through an $18.6 million bond.

Sarah Strahl, city librarian, said the main library has a tentative opening date of Sept. 1. But she said that date is going to be more of a soft opening rather than a grand opening, which will include a celebration at a yet to be determined date.

At the end of this month, library staff will begin moving items into the main library at 585 Liberty Street S.E. The library has been operating out of a temporary location on 1400 Broadway Street N.E. since last February.

Strahl said the library plans to close service for two weeks at the end of August to focus on getting everything moved into the space.

They’ve hired a moving company to move items out of the basement, as well as to get items out of the temporary location and at the West Salem branch.

Strahl said the library’s only branch, the West Salem branch, has been used as a staging area for materials and likely won’t open until the main library does.

She said opening the library sooner would depend on the timing of loosened Covid restrictions. Gov. Kate Brown has said when Oregon reaches a 70% vaccination rate most pandemic-related restrictions like social distancing and masking would end. Public health officials have stated that target could be met by late June.

“Balancing the ramping up of services and the time and energy we’re spending to move back is going to be the upcoming challenge,” Strahl said.

A rendering of the newly renovated Salem Public Library. (Courtesy/Hacker Architects)

When people walk into the new library, the first thing they’ll notice is a lot more open space.

Gone are the blue carpets, tunnel entrance and ceiling tiles.

The Salem Civic Center was designed in a style called Brutalist architecture, known for its modular elements and utilitarian feel. The main library was relocated to its current space in the civic center in 1972 and was renovated in 1990.

“What we’ve tried to do is honor that architectural style in the history of the library by reusing pieces,” Strahl said.

That includes uncovering a waffle ceiling that was part of the original design.

Nooks, which had been used for additional shelving, will now be cozy reading areas.

The tunnel-like entryway is being replaced with a park-like plaza with trees and flowers.

Walking inside, patrons will see a conveyer belt, called an automated materials handler, where they can return their books and see them get sorted.

Strahl said eventually the handler should free up staff time.

One of the new additions are study rooms. There will also be a new staircase that’s front and center, but “We also wanted it to not feel like it was closing off the library,” Strahl said.

She said there will be wood treads and metal framing so you can see through it.

The third floor is specifically for kids, with a teen hangout area, study room and double the space for youth items.

“I’m excited for everyone to see the library when it’s open,” she said. “Every time I go there, I’m just thrilled.”

A rendering of the newly renovated Salem Public Library. (Courtesy/Hacker Architects)

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM - We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!