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Reading for the Future

Construction of Burke Centre Library puts thought toward future.

When Fairfax County Public Libraries opens a new branch, years of planning and anticipation occur before the library ever opens its doors.

For the Burke Centre Library, which is scheduled to open in the summer of 2008, that process is still playing out. Sam Clay, director of Fairfax County Public Libraries, told the Friends of the Burke Centre Library what it takes from the county standpoint to get the branch on its feet, at the group’s annual meeting on Wednesday, April 25.

"The hardest part is defining what you want this building to do," said Clay.

The Burke Centre branch is one of two branches being constructed under the $52.5 million library bond passed by voters in 2004. The bond will also finance the renovation of the county’s four oldest branches, repairs at several branches and preliminary designs for future renovations. At Burke Centre, the library’s design is all about the future.

Taking into account the formula for building libraries in the county — 0.4 square feet per capita of library space — Burke Centre is expected to be a popular branch, said Clay. The population in the Braddock District is expected to grow about 6.6 percent by 2020, according to county population estimates. The Burke Centre branch will also border the Springfield District, which is expected to grow about 16 percent by the same year.

"[That formula] has been the driving force in terms of expanding or building new libraries," said Clay.

The county and its architects also took into account the future of the environment. Green building, or environmentally friendly designs that decrease energy usage, are the wave of the future. Clay said the branch is being built to meet the silver LEED standard, a level of green building that is becoming more common.

"The architect was wonderful in looking at the site to see where the sun rose and set, and designed the building to maximize sunlight," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock).

THE FRIENDS of the Burke Centre Library, a group that formed in June 2002 before the library was even designed, is also thinking ahead. The group is sponsoring the creation of a time capsule that will be placed inside the wall of the library once it opens. Pat Riedinger, president of the group, said the time capsule task force is in the process of gathering items to include in the capsule. They have come up with an essay contest for local elementary, middle and high school students next fall. The capsule will include several winners’ writings and artwork on the topic of what life will be like in 2038, the year the capsule is to be opened.

"It will get kids thinking about what our future will be like," said Bulova. "The things we are doing today are really the history of tomorrow."

The capsule will also include items and artifacts related to "the day in the life of a librarian," and items detailing the history of libraries in the Burke Centre area.

"The history of libraries in this area goes back a long way," said Riedinger.

Part of the library site’s history is also being incorporated into the design. The site was once a horse farm. Upon surveying the land before construction, a diseased Cherry Bark Oak tree was discovered. It was a very old tree, but the county saved some of its bark and Riedinger said they hope to make a library display utilizing it. Riedinger said she hopes the display will be able to show a timeline of history in the area in relation to the rings on the tree bark that also represent time and growth.

"It’s fun to look back at what this area was like," said Bulova.

One thing that won’t ever turn into history is the classics, such as "Moby Dick," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Little Women," said Clay. Those are some of the first purchases made for a new branch, during what’s called the "collection period," said Clay. Multiple copies of each book are purchased at least two years before the library opens.

About one to two years before the doors open, the county purchases furniture and equipment to get the library operational.

Fairfax County Public Libraries then hires a branch manager and the rest of the staff. Volunteers make up a large portion of many branch’s staff, said Clay. "Fairfax County couldn’t provide the level of service it does without volunteers."

"It’s always our intent to provide [the citizens] with the most responsive library we can do," said Clay.

And in the many years of existence of the county’s libraries, Clay said the library staff has learned a lot. People do not like to share their space by sitting together at large tables, he said. The buildings have to be quiet, inviting and properly lit. There also shouldn’t be too many meeting rooms, he said, and every library seems that it should always be open for longer hours.

"The Internet is wonderful, but it will never take the place of the library as a place," said Clay. "It’s a place to come to."