Duluth library faces dramatic, expensive fate

PHOTO: Duluth Public Library Facebook page

PHOTO: Duluth Public Library Facebook page

I’m 34, pushing 35. The other day I was thinking, hey there Me! I’ve lived some good life and still have plenty to go. Good for Me! Thanks, Me!

And then I read this story about the 34-year-old, almost 35-year-old Duluth Public Library.

Peter Passi reported in Sunday’s Duluth News Tribune on a grim view of the condition of the Duluth Public Library after a recent study was released. Officials detailed four options, ranging from an expensive $27 million renovation to a $34 million new library, each of which demonstrate a major administrative challenge for the city of Duluth in coming years.

The giant laker-shaped building overlooking the Depot and Lake Superior is an iconic fixture in downtown Duluth, but its size and unique design have betrayed it. It’s a bear to heat, has structural issues, is tough to staff and was built for a time when looking for books was the main purpose of a library. A firm hired to review the building says the city is entering a four-year window where there is still time to fix the problems before they become even more expensive.

Writes Passi:

Library Manager Carla Powers said Duluth’s downtown library has struggled to adapt to the changing demands of its patrons.

“Library service is changing. This was built to be a book library, and libraries are not necessarily solely focused on books these days,” Powers said.

The library’s wiring was installed at a time when few anticipated the digital demands that have since emerged. The library’s crowded computer lab consists of 21 computers, and another eight laptops are available for use in the building. But that’s well below the 75-100 computers that typically would be available for use at a modern, comparably sized public library, Powers said.

“We’ve got a lot of space for books but not a lot of space for people in this building,” Powers said, describing how portions of the library aren’t particularly inviting.

It sounds like the city went into the process hoping to remodel the existing library, but the report shows all options that address the library’s structural needs will cost between $27-$34 million.

Sigh. Maybe I’m not so young after all.


  1. It’s amazing how the city of Duluth manages to find one massive project to build after another, no matter how good or bad the economy is, or how many budget problems we’re facing, or how much debt we’re carrying. They may say there are different options for the library, but the goal has always been to build a new one. Even before the consultant was hired, that was the goal. It never ends.

    Another thing that never changes is how the build-build-build philosophy is always described as “prudent.”

  2. It was built in the wrong spot anyway. When it was built the Depot was just becoming a premier downtown attraction. An open plaza between the Depot and Superior street would have been wonderful and helped frame the building. Instead they built this monstrosity all but hiding the front of the Depot from Superior Street.

    The open area under the east end of the building was supposed to make the Depot more visible. They forgot about the hill. It never worked out that way.

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