When residents get their first look at the River Center Branch Library at its "soft opening" Friday morning, one of the first things they'll see is a wall-to-wall map of the Mississippi River from the Army Corps of Engineers — a nod to the building's location as much as a symbol of its mission.  

"Just like the river flows, at the library, information, opportunity and ideas all flow," said library director Spencer Watts. "It brings in that dynamism, restless energy and potential that's also representative of the library."

The four-story, 50,000 square-foot building — complete with a rooftop terrace, recording studio, 3D printer and, of course, thousands of books — will finally open to the public at 9:30 a.m. Friday after years of delays.

The $19 million project was originally slated for completion in 2018 but stalled for nearly a year after an alleged design flaw caused support beams on the building's cantilever to fail. Construction resumed last year, but the library faced another setback when a statewide ransomware attack in November log-jammed procurement networks. 

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic means that many of the library's collaborative features — including its conference rooms and "maker space" — will be put on hold, but patrons can still check out materials and use the site's computers, said Mary Stein, assistant library director. 

The first floor, which features a collection of audio books, DVDs, periodicals and bestsellers, looks out onto an outdoor plaza along North Boulevard where free WiFi is available to the public every day until 8 p.m. The space will eventually host a cafe, though a vendor has yet to be selected.

A bright orange carpet with a playful circuit board design greets visitors as they exit the elevator onto the second floor, a space entirely dedicated for children. It features a "story time room," computer stations and large couches for parents and tots to kick back with books.

Two stuffed animals — "a reading dog and alligator" — are perched above the bookshelves and serve as a "no judgement" audience for Baton Rouge's youngest readers, Stein said.

And the space looks out onto downtown's City Plaza — a view not unlike that seen in Dr. Seuss' classic "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," Stein added. 

The third floor houses the library's main collection of books and includes three conference rooms, a quiet reading lounge, a dedicated space for teenagers, and a slew of state-of-the-art work spaces. 

Electronic Arts, a video game company, underwrote a "teen technology lab" with dozens of computers that will eventually host workshops on coding and programming. An adjacent room is decked out with flat-screen TVs capable of holding video game tournaments or movie nights. 

A recording studio down the hall allows patrons to record podcasts, train as a DJ, or create soundtracks. 

The library is also home to a dedicated "maker space" with "high-tech, low-tech and no-tech" opportunities, including 3D printers, a button maker, green screen, laser cutter, sewing machine and T-shirt heating press, Stein said. 

The fourth floor features an expansive rooftop terrace and garden with views of the Mississippi River Bridge, Old State Capitol and downtown skyline. The floor also includes a banquet hall and conference spaces.

A short dedication ceremony for the library will take place on Friday at 9:30 a.m. with speeches from local leaders. 


Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater