The newly opened Wando Mount Pleasant Library is pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a public library in a 21st century world.
The library opens to the public Monday . It was designed to include digital creative spaces including a teen lounge and gaming room, a digital media recording studio and two editing labs.
At 40,000 square feet, the branch is the first and the largest of five new libraries to open after voters passed a 2014 referendum. The $108.5 million referendum called for the construction of five new libraries and the renovation of 13 existing branches.
The Wando branch was budgeted $26 million.
Since media consumption has shifted toward digital platforms, it's the library's responsibility to keep up, Angela Craig, the executive director of the Wando Mount Pleasant Library, said.
“I think it's always going to be a matter of how to capture the public, and this is one avenue for that,” Craig said. “This avenue is always going to evolve. It’s going to be a gaming platform right now. It might be a virtual reality platform next. It might be another kind of platform later. But technology is a doorway into the community.”
This shift is not uncommon. Libraries across the country are updating to include more modern technology and services that encourage digital literacy among children and young adults, according to the American Library Association.
Craig said while the inclusion of recreational opportunities (like video gaming lounges) occasionally raises questions from community members, it isn’t necessarily a new idea.
“Back in the day before video gaming, public libraries would have board game nights and things like that,” she said.
Recreation has been a part of libraries from as early as the 19th century when libraries hosted chess clubs. Libraries during the Great Depression offered puzzle contests and developed circulating game collections, according to an academic journal on the history of games in North American libraries.
The library’s gaming room features three consoles – an Xbox One, a PlayStation 4 and a Nintendo Switch.
“It is definitely a contemporary, 21st century library,” said Toni Lombardozzi, the Wando Mount Pleasant Library project manager.
According to Lombardozzi, the gaming room is meant to be as functional as it is recreational. She said it will provide a safe space for teenagers to relax and might provide an opportunity for them to develop an interest in coding or video game design.
“It’s better, we think, to have the teens in here, having fun at a library playing video games, rather than getting trouble in the streets,” Lombardozzi said.
But the library is modern in more ways than one.
In addition to the gaming lounge, it features a creative studio that houses two 3-D printers, a recording lab that includes a teleprompter and a light kit, and editing suites ready for podcast making.
In the lobby, a machine known as an “automated materials handling” system sits behind large glass windows. It sucks books and materials down a conveyor belt as they are returned and sorts the materials into designated bins, removing the need for librarians to sort them by hand.
The two editing labs and the digital media studio are available for users aged 16 and up to reserve. All patrons must complete an orientation program before using any equipment in the creative spaces.
The library is a part of the Charleston County Public Library system and is located at 1400 Carolina Park Blvd., near Wando High School.