A few minutes before the Kanawha County Public Library opened its temporary location for the main library at Charleston Town Center mall, library patron Connie Perry said she could hardly wait to get inside.
“I’ve had holds waiting here for three months,” she said, excited.
Perry was part of a modest crowd of library staff, KCPL board members and library patrons who had come out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony during an otherwise quiet Tuesday morning at the mall.
Only a few customers ambled through the racks at American Eagle Outfitters across the way and several stores, including Buckle, next door, remain closed.
Still, new KCPL Director Erika Connelly welcomed the crowd and said she is “thrilled by this new partnership” with the Town Center. The library is expected to remain at the mall for about two years while the 100-year-old building on Capitol Street undergoes a $24 million renovation.
Charleston residents will hardly recognize the inside of the building on Capitol Street when it reopens. The new plans include an enlarged children’s area, more study rooms and meeting spaces, as well as a more technologically current facility.
Terri McDougal, head of Children’s Services, said she’d never thought the library would go to the Town Center.
“No, not at all,” she said.
Originally, KCPL officials intended to move to a new building, but the campaign, which began 25 years ago, dragged on and eventually became untenable.
McDougal has been with the KCPL for 35 years and said that while she never expected to be at the mall, the staff is glad to be getting back to work.
“It’s been a challenge to get this done during the [coronavirus] pandemic, but we have a dedicated staff willing to make it happen,” she said.
The library’s temporary space at the mall is very much smaller than the sprawling, multi-story building on Capitol Street. It’s about twice the size of the Books-A-Million location that closed in the mall a few months ago.
Half of the library’s temporary location is devoted to children’s books and materials, although McDougal said they’ll face some space-related challenges ahead.
They don’t have space for programs, she said, but added that, with health precautions taken because of the pandemic, including social distancing, the staff isn’t doing any in-person programs.
“Everything has been moved to virtual programs through Facebook Live or Zoom right now,” she said. “If things improve and restrictions loosen, we might be able to use some space in the mall for programs.”
Because of the pandemic, like the other libraries in the countywide system, the temporary location at the Town Center is limiting the number of patrons on the premises to eight people at a time, and they are encouraged to wear masks.
Library staff will be wearing masks, Connelly said.
Visitors to the library may remain inside the space only for two hours. Library computers may be used only for an hour at a time. Stan Howell, marketing and development manager for the KCPL, said that is to allow more people access under the safety guidelines.
“We hope, as things progress, we’ll be able to open up more and more,” he said.
The library’s hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The Town Center location will be closed on Sundays.
Connelly said that, before taking the job, she wouldn’t have imagined opening a library at a mall but that it looks like a good fit.
“Honestly, we’re just glad to be able to reach our patrons downtown again,” she said.
Larry Rogers, a longtime library patron who arrived at the ribbon-cutting ceremony with flags flying on his motorized wheelchair, waited through the line and left with a shopping bag filled with television shows on DVD — the comedy series “Barney Miller” and the police drama “Adam-12.”
“I don’t get a lot of books here,” Rogers said. “But I like the old shows best. I can always find something here.”