Vail library turns 25 |

Vail library turns 25

NWS Vail Libe 01 TS 10-23-08

VAIL, Colorado ” In the 1970s, Charlyn Canada was a vocal advocate for a quiet place: a free-standing library in Vail, Colorado.

At the time, she presided over the quaint, 1,500-square-foot library on the bottom floor of the town’s municipal building.

Though she had little space, Canada strove for “big city service in a small town setting.” She brought in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle ” a periodical collection that rivaled those at urban libraries.

“We would get major newspapers from across the nation and people would come in like a coffee shop today,” Canada recalled. “There were nice sofas. People really enjoyed coming there and getting in touch with what was happening around the world.”

But by the early 1980s, Vail had outgrown its library. The facility was so cramped, Canada had to shelve books two deep. Books lined the floors with their spines up, like trails of dominoes. There were 18,500 books crammed into a space fit for 8,000.

“What we were trying to build there was a quality collection,” Canada recalled. “We needed more room.”

Canada’s vision materialized in 1983, when the town opened a new library ” Town of Vail Public Library ” at 292 W. Meadow Drive.

At 15,000 square feet, it was 10 times the size of the old library. And it blazed a trail in green architecture. Tucked into a slope, the roughly $3 million facility had the largest earth roof on a public building west of the Mississippi, recalls Pam Hopkins, a partner with Snowdon Hopkins Architects in Eagle-Vail, the company that designed the library.

On a symbolic level, the library earned a sense of place. No longer just a bookend to the municipal building, it was a destination in its own right.

“It was a home away from home,” Canada said. “That’s what I was always trying to create, for the people who are making Vail happen, the waiters, the cleaning crews, the lift operators.”

On a recent afternoon, Kara Dunston reclined on a leather couch in front of the library’s fireplace.

The 24-year-old was checking e-mail on her laptop and enjoying a peaceful moment away from home.

For Dunston, a safety patroller on Vail Mountain, the library offers a break from the bustling apartment where she is staying in West Vail.

“It’s relaxing. It’s quiet. It’s beautiful,” she said. ‘It’s nice to just come and hang out.”

Twenty-five years after the library opened, it has become a haven for Vail locals and visitors alike.

Not only has the book collection more than doubled to about 43,000, the library has adapted to modern needs. Patrons can sift through shelves of DVDs or browse the Internet at computers. Readers can even borrow MP3 players so they can download books off the library’s Web site.

“It’s a busy place,” library director Lori A. Barnes said. “It’s certainly not the place of the past where the stereotypical librarian was shushing people. It’s a community center. Libraries have the chance to reach out and touch every patron in some way, so we really see ourselves as being the heart of the community.”

Looking into the future, Barnes envisions holding more programs at the library.

“We have these delightful story hours that take place here, but we don’t have a lot of adult and family programming,” she said.

With that goal in mind, a series of events will celebrate the library’s 25th anniversary. The next program is a workshop with Ben Pond, an Eagle resident who teaches printmaking at Colorado Mountain College.

Members of the community will use wood blocks to make relief prints on Japanese paper, Pond said. Relief prints have close ties to literacy because they served as illustrations for early books.

“Once books were machine printed, more people became literate and it started this real advancement as far as education and reading and this type of printmaking was directly tied in with that, this ability to create these illustrations,” Pond said.

The library’s 25th anniversary celebration, titled “The Artful Nature of the Word,” is a collaboration between Art in Public Places, Colorado Ski Museum, Vail Jazz Foundation and Vail Symposium.

“We’d like to invite more people to come into the library for cultural events, as well as regular library services,” said Leslie Fordham, event organizer and director of Art in Public Places.

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or

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