Salt Lake City's Main Library, designed by internationally-acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie (see related titles in our catalog) in conjunction with VCBO Architecture, opened in February 2003 and remains one of the most architecturally unique structures in Utah. This striking 240,000 square-foot structure houses more than 500,000 books and other materials, yet serves as more than just a repository of books and computers. It reflects and engages the city's imagination and aspirations. A six-story curving, walkable wall embraces the public plaza, with shops and services at ground level, reading galleries above, and a 300-seat auditorium. A multi-level reading area along the Glass Lens at the southern facade of the building looks out onto the plaza with stunning views of the city and Wasatch Mountains beyond. The Rooftop Terrace, accessible by walking the Crescent Wall or the elevators, offers a 360-degree view of the Salt Lake Valley. Spiraling fireplaces on four floors resemble a column of flame from the vantage of 200 East and 400 South. The Urban Room between the Library and the Crescent Wall is a space for all seasons, generously endowed with daylight and open to magnificent views.
Natural light is introduced into all of the spaces where people sit and work. Infused with light from all sides, the library has paid careful attention to ensure that library materials and technology are not affected by direct sunlight. The clear glass on the lens of the triangle has the highest UV rating available for energy efficiency. Indirect lighting fixtures reflect off the painted, arched ceilings to cast even light, reducing glare on computer screens, desk surfaces, and book pages.
As you move up in the building from floor to floor, you may notice that it gets quieter. This effect is by design, with the more active and noisier areas of the library on the lower levels giving way to the reference and study-oriented areas on the upper levels.
On each level of the library, as you exit the elevator or come up the stairs, you will find a building directory and signage designed to help you orient yourself. The layout and design of the book stacks helps direct you to various service areas as well as to the restrooms, copy machines, public telephones, and drinking fountains on the west side of Levels 2, 3, and 4.
Children's Library: Lower Level
The Children's Library is a light-filled, five-story atrium which may be observed from all of the floors above. Cloth "clouds" or "sails" may be pulled across the space to provide shade when necessary. Along the outer edge you will find space for coats, backpacks, and strollers; a small room in which parents may attend to the needs of their babies; and an alcove filled with multimedia equipment loaded with educational games and learning programs. Large Craft and Story Rooms house many of the children's programs.
Two special spaces are tucked under the reflecting pool of the plaza. Designed to free a child's imagination, these rooms are places for dreaming, playing, reading, and inventing. Grandmother's Attic recreates the coziness of an attic with wood beams, stuffed animals, and plenty of places to curl up with a book. For something a little more fantastic, the Wild Woods are sure to spark a child's sense of adventure and imagination. During the summer months, children can enjoy the adjacent terrace where gently flowing waterfalls cascade down the walls, a feature designed to cool the area and provide a calming but visually interesting background. The area also offers a space for outdoor storytimes during the warmer Utah months.
Audiovisual Collection: Level 1
The City Library's audiovisual collection, including CDs, DVDs, and more, houses the most popular items in the library, according to circulation statistics. Three small rooms in the audiovisual area allow patrons to preview these materials before checking them out.
The Technology Center: Level 1
The Technology Center offers 42 computer stations with Internet access (an additional 121 public computers are located throughout the building). The computers in the Technology Center have been partially provided through a grant from the Gates Foundation, and staff is available to assist users as they write papers, work on resumes, and develop computer skills. Select computers in the Technology Center are connected to scanners for public use. City Library staff also teach computer classes in the Technology Center, ranging from very beginner courses (like how to use a mouse) to more advanced computer use (such as Microsoft PowerPoint mastery).
The Creative Lab: Level 1
The City Library's Creative Lab provides a space with dedicated equipment and software to create, edit, and convert digital media projects including, but not limited to, video, audio, photography, and 3D modeling. The Creative Lab is intended for individuals or small groups and provides the community with access to technology resources that they may not otherwise have. The Creative Lab requires users to have a current Basic or Expanded Salt Lake City Public Library card in good standing; however, a library card is not required in order to attend Creative Lab classes. All equipment is for use solely within The Creative Lab.
Browsing Library and Cafe: Level 1
The Browsing Library on the first floor makes it easy for patrons to find popular, current, and high demand items. The librarians in this area take great pleasure in discussing your reading interests, helping you find more books like the ones you've recently enjoyed, and introducing you to new authors and subjects.
A place to relax with a cup of coffee was one of the most requested services by the public. The City Library is pleased to be able to provide this space next to the Browsing Library where you can enjoy a drink or snack from The Salt Lake Roasting Company.
The Canteena: Level 2
The City Library has made a strong commitment to reaching out to and serving young adults. Designed to appeal to teens, the Canteena contains materials of high interest for that age group as well as literature published especially for them. The media and technology in this area encourage group study as well as individual exploration. A cantilevered stair takes teens directly from the Canteena to the cafe on Level 1.
Newspapers and Magazines: Level 2
On display are more than 600 newspaper and magazine titles to which the library subscribes. Current issues of these titles are on display; back issues are shelved in the periodical stack area of the library. Older magazines and newspapers are housed in the closed stack area to preserve materials that are often fragile and easily damaged. Even as more current material is available online, the demand for back issues and microfilm continues. This treasure trove of information is the only resource of its kind between Denver and San Francisco.
Languages and Literacy: Level 3
As the population of Salt Lake City becomes more diverse, the need for materials in other languages has steadily increased. This area provides books, magazines, and newspapers in 25 languages, and language study materials for people learning English as well as those learning other languages.
Special Collections: Level 4
The City Library has a small but very interesting collection of old and rare materials, plus examples of various types of publishing and items of special significance to our region. Our librarians are happy to help you use the materials in the Special Collections, but the fragile nature of these collections requires that they be used in this room.
The Gallery at Library Square: Level 4
The City Library has a long history of supporting the arts through a program of changing exhibits. These exhibits expose thousands of Salt Lake City residents to a wide variety of art media, including paintings, watercolors, drawings, collage, photography, and sculpture.
Public Art in the Main Library
More than one percent of the construction cost of the Main Library was dedicated to public art and has resulted in powerful, unique, whimsical, clever, and spectacular works integrated throughout the entire library complex.
Boston artists Ralph Helmick and Stu Schechter developed a large hanging sculpture titled "Psyche" for the Urban Room. The finished work consists of nearly 1500 small sculptures of books and fluttering butterflies which coalesce into a large, composite human head. The word "psyche" comes from the original Greek, meaning "mind" and "butterfly." Some of the butterflies sport wings covered with words in twenty different languages, taken from the universal declaration of human rights. Several of the butterflies flutter their wings due to mechanics and a small electric current.
Kinde Nebeker developed a series of whimsical, thoughtful, profound, and poignant quotes that appear in surprising places throughout the building. Nebeker's talents have been put to use as the building matures, identifying new locations and uses for quotes.
James Charles created a large painting built up in layers, with each new layer affecting our understanding of the previous one. The upper portion of the painting is formed by shaped stretcher bars and covered by a semi-transparent material, a reference to the new library structure. The lower section is a grid of small boxes containing sign and symbol figurative elements, referencing the painting's concept of the pursuit of knowledge. The painting is found in the Lower Urban Room at the end of the hall leading to the lower entrance of the Auditorium.
Bonnie Sucec and Day Christensen designed "Shards," large free-standing and hanging glass sculptures which appear as ribbons of color throughout the building.
Ed Dolinger's work consists of abstract metal panels and elements enlivening the access to the library from the parking garage.
German artist Karl Schlamminger designed the Grandmother's Attic play room in the Children's Library.
The Plot Community Garden
Located on the north side of the building, The Plot is a community garden with beds tended by local-area residents who are selected via an annual lottery. The Plot is a learning laboratory for Library patrons to sow, grow, and share using sustainable gardening practices. Each gardener is the author of their own plot, fostering life in a dense urban area.
Everyone is allowed to enjoy the garden space respectfully and watch it grow, but please do not pick from the garden if you are not a member. The Plot is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
The Main Library's Rooftop Terrace is home to multiple beehives that are kept by the Salt Lake City Beekeeper. The hives offer a close-up view of honeybee behavior and the opportunity to learn about the value of bees and beekeeping in an urban environment. For best viewing, note that the colony goes dormant in the winter.
The hives produce anywhere from 75 to 250 pounds of honey each year, which are shared with the public at honey-tasting events and submitted annually to the Utah State Fair. In 2016, the Library Honey won First Place in the Utah State Fair's Honey Sweepstakes.
Salt Lake City ordinance currently promotes the cultivation of honeybees within city limits. The Library's hives reflect this aspect of Salt Lake City and are also used to support programs related to sustainability and urban beekeeping.
Library Square and Landscaping
The architects sought to link the Main Library and City Hall as companion buildings in support of civic engagement. A granite water wall provides a cooling atmosphere and flows into a wedge-shaped garden. A reflecting pool at the base of the glass lens offers a respite from the warmth of Utah's summer sun. The public plaza (known as Library Square) was designed to create opportunities for community festivals, events, and celebrations. Funding provided through Olympic revenues helped complete the east side of the block as a peaceful urban green space.
The plazas, water features, and gardens of the Main Library are designed in the same spirit of other great public spaces—a place to meet friends, relax with a book, watch a concert, participate in a debate, or celebrate the city.
Parking at the Main Library
An underground parking facility can be accessed from eastbound 400 South between 200 and 300 East. Parking in this city-operated facility is free for the first half-hour, then $1.50 per half-hour after that. Any vehicle displaying a disability special group license plate or disability windshield placard may park in the parking garage at Library Square for two hours with no charge. Additional time beyond the two hours is $1.50 per half-hour. This parking structure offers two electric vehicle charging stations located in the southeast corner of the lower level (P2) of the parking garage, as well as two on-street electric vehicle charging stations (charging fees apply) located near the parking garage's exit ramp at 255 East 500 South.