Spokane Libraries Become Libraries of the Future

Spokane has transformed the very idea of a traditional library, from the stereotypical shh-ing librarian and wall-to-wall books to spaces that are open, welcoming, and transformative. 

The Spokane Public Library (SPL) has added modern conveniences to its buildings, and citizen-needed and requested programs to its events calendars. The Spokane Public Library buildings are no longer somewhere you go to just check out books. They are an entire experience; a destination. 

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Libraries of the Future

In November 2018, after much (sooooo much) planning, research, and legwork by city and library employees, voters approved a $77 million dollar bond. This money has since been used to renovate old libraries and build new libraries. The bond, in fact, was passed to pay for the renovation of four public libraries and the building of three brand-new libraries. 

Amanda Donovan, the Marketing and Communications Director for Spokane Public Library, said the discussion for this massive undertaking began in 2015 with visionary Andrew Chanse, the Executive Director of SPL, and the Board of Trustees. 

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In 2015, after a Request for Qualifications (RFQ), Donovan said, two architect firms joined SPL, Integrus Architecture with offices in Spokane, and Group 4 Architecture based in San Francisco. 

From near inception, then, the two architect firms, Chanse, the Board of Trustees, and SPL employees and staff got to work. 

Donovan said Chanse and the Board wanted to create “The Library of the Future,” bringing offerings that would keep the libraries relevant in the 21st Century, all while providing the community exactly what they need and want out of a public space. 

How does one know what the public wants? Well, they ask them, of course. When polled, Spokane residents said the No. 1 thing they wanted, Donovan said, were improved children’s spaces. 

Indoor Play Areas

As of right now, five of the seven libraries are complete. The South Hill and Indian Trails libraries are currently closed for renovation but will reopen in 2023. 

Upon entering any of the five improved libraries, it’s clear that the strategic team provided exactly what Spokane citizens deemed most important. They delivered with a capital ‘D’ on improved children’s spaces. 

A Bit of Whimsy 

Each of the libraries has an indoor play area (yes, you read that right) for children, and each of those areas has the “Same whimsical theme story,” Donovan said. “They have the same characters throughout the design, all inspired by Inland Pacific Northwest animals or Spokane characters.”

If you go to the Central Library downtown, for example, the theme is River Rumpus with a diving/swimming goat, based on the famous Spokane Garbage Goat, and one of the play structures is a Numerica SkyRide gondola-turned-submarine. Plus, the view of the falls from the children’s area is pretty spectacular. 

Children’s play area within the Central Library downtown Spokane. Photo Credit: Hailey Keller

“Some people who have a more traditional view of libraries may say ‘Why do you have a play space in a library?’” Donovan said, “But research has shown that putting play spaces in places where parents already go is instrumental in connecting parents to children and children to books.”

Donovan continued by stating that Spokane doesn’t have a lot of free, indoor spaces to go to during the winter. 

“We wanted to create a destination that could be really enriching for both parents and children. Where more interaction could occur between the two,” Donovan said. 

Gwyn Pevonka – local artist and current (at the time this article was written) Artist-in-Residence at The Hive®, one of SPL’s newest and most non-traditional libraries – agrees with Donovan wholeheartedly. 

Pevonka said: “Personally, my daughter and I love the libraries. Not only is it a place I take her to read and do story time, they have playgrounds inside! My daughter will spend hours there. When it’s cold, it’s my survival setting.”

The Hive

Beyond spending hours at her local library, Pevonka spends a lot of time at The Hive through their artist-in-residence program. 

It’s easy to see why anyone would want to spend time here, especially, if you’ve been inside the extremely cool space. 

The Hive is everything the “Library of the Future ” title wanted to fulfill. 

Since 2022, The Hive has won five prestigious awards for design and social responsibility. Within the very non-traditional walls, the building holds spaces specifically for Spokane Public Schools, including a teacher-training center and virtual learning offices. 

A large part of the design, however, is dedicated to artist studios, home to the library’s Artist-in-Residence program. This program is, just for your information, application-based and unpaid. 

This program was dreamed of and conceptualized by Eva Silverstone, the Arts Education Specialist for SPL.

When researching similar programs in other libraries around the country, Silverstone said she learned many, at the time, would take an unused office or meeting room and say “You can use this space, but don’t use anything that smells bad. Don’t get anything on the carpet, and when you’re done, please clean up, because we’re going to have another program in here.” 

When developing this artist-in-residence program, Silverstone campaigned for part of the space to be “real artist studios.”

So, Silverstone said, each studio unit has an individual ventilation system, a big fan, utility sink, floor drain, etc. 

Silverstone said the “Dual nature of the building made it possible to have the meeting rooms and space for the teachers, plus the artists. Everybody wins with these kinds of partnerships.” 

Silverstone believes the space is ideal for artists who create there, as “They are in front of the eyes of so many more people. The artists are not isolated, and they can build community.” 

Gwyn Pevonka at The Hive

Gwyn Pevonka standing in front of some of her work created at The Hive. Photo Credit: Hailey Keller

As Silverstone stated, the dual nature of The Hive is yet another “Library of the Future” feature. How many libraries have you been to that have artist-specific spaces? Probably not many. 

The talented Gwyn Pevonka, current Artist-in-Residence through November 2022, occupies one of the four artist studios. 

Pevonka, a transplant from Tennessee, came to The Hive’s opening in July the first week after she’d moved to Spokane over a year ago.

Pevonka said she met Silverstone, learned of the artist’s space, and said to herself, “This is finally my time; I’m going to do this residency.” 

Manifesting her own destiny, Pevonka applied to the residency program and was selected! 

She has now spent many hours at The Hive, interacting with the public who use the space, and meeting artists from all over the Inland Northwest, which, for Pevonka, has been one of the best parts of her residency. 

“Attention to detail is like a dance. And everyone dances differently,” Pevonka said. “I’m wild and crazy. You’d find me in a ska mosh pit, where other artists here are very whimsical. In this space, I get to really connect with the art scene here.”

The Hive may be non-traditional in design and some of its purpose, but as Donovan said, “One of our (SPL’s) main goals is connecting citizens with information and resources. It’s expanding access to people who wouldn’t normally have access to these features.”

A closeup of Pevonka’s work. Photo Credit: Hailey Keller

Before coming to The Hive’s studio space, Pevonka worked at a small desk in her home. If you’re familiar with Pevonka’s work, then you know how incredibly difficult this must have been for the artist. Pevonka is a carver, but one that carves out of layers and layers of paint instead of wood. This has been Pevonka’s art style for over 13 years. 

Just getting Pevonka out of her small space and into The Hive’s large studio space has allowed her to work at a scale she’s never experienced before and turn her attention to newer aspects of her art. 

When Pevonka was first granted the Artist-In-Residence spot, she thought “My work excites me and I love it, but it’s like, do I continue building this style, or do I allow myself to try all the other styles that I want to?” 

After five months at The Hive, she’s discovered, thanks to the space, that “Carving will remain my focus, but I’ll try different techniques within this one cloud of technique.”

For example, Pevonka creates the most interesting jewelry (this writer buys Pevonka’s earrings in bulk) by carving slivers of her layered paint pieces and “encapsulating them in resin forever,” Pevonka said. 

Pevonka said her work really revolves around her three obsessions: paint, color and texture.

Her work, from an art novice like myself, could be categorized as assemblages or collages. But, what’s so cool is that Pevonka has made every single piece, fragment and sliver that goes into these assemblages! 

“All the materials used have been created by me,” Pevonka says, glowing. “Which is fun and random and one of a kind. I can never get that one sliver again!”

That’s why this writer is so obsessed with Pevonka’s work. Everything she creates is  one-of-a-kind, something she can’t ever replicate with the same paint carvings again. 

Connect, Create and Thrive 

This idea of creativity meshes so well with The Spokane Public Library’s overall goals for their new spaces. They have built areas where artists, musicians, podcasters, writers, speakers, citizens, etc. can gather, meet and create, uninhibited by the outside world. 

The Central Library has alllll the things, including a “Library of Things” – no joke. Want to learn how to snowshoe but don’t want to spend the money to rent or buy the actual equipment needed? You can check out snowshoes! Need to trim a branch or two, but you can’t afford (or just don’t want) to purchase the necessary clippers? You can check them out! 

Like typical books, you can reserve these items, and they will be delivered to your local library!

nxʷyxʷyetkʷ Hall

nxʷyxʷyetkʷ Hall is one of our favorite areas of the Central Library, as it has THE best view of the falls anywhere in Spokane. This was not a coincidence, of course, as SPL worked very closely with the Spokane Tribe of Indians to name the space. The falls have always been very important to the Spokane Tribe of Indians and all the surrounding Indigenous Tribes as well. 

nxʷyxʷyetkʷ Hall located in the Central Library in downtown Spokane

This meeting space is available for non-profit and for-profit events. You can even rent the space after hours for weddings (Can you imagine how amazing that would be?!). 

The nxʷyxʷyetkʷ Hall isn’t the only meeting space in the Central Library:

  • Media studios
  • Video editing studio
  • Podcast studio
  • KYRS Thin Air Community Radio broadcasting studio 
  • Five study rooms 
  • Business Lab
  • Two large community meeting rooms

More Than Technology 

In order for the Spokane Public Library buildings to remain “The Library of the Future,” they needed certain renovations that would keep the buildings working and functioning the way they are supposed to.

Thanks to the bond passed in 2018, libraries across Spokane have gotten a much-needed facelift, something Donovan said she doesn’t get to talk about very often:

“I talk about all the very sexy stuff, right? The media studios, etc., but we needed new carpet; we needed new HVAC; we needed new roofs. We needed capital infrastructure changes because those things were getting extremely expensive for us to maintain.” 

Donovan said, “We still have books. We still have magazines. But now we’re creating free spaces to connect, be together, connect as a community in these spaces.”

A Job Well Done

We wish we had every single name of every single person involved in undertaking this massive library revitalization program since inception. However, we do not. 

BUT, we would like to take a moment to thank all those who have been involved in the dreaming, collaborating, polling, voting, creating, building, and managing of the Spokane Public Library. They have built safe spaces and reprieves for those all over Spokane. We applaud all of you! 

How will you enjoy these spaces? We highly recommend signing up for a library card today!

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Hailey Keller – Copy Editor/Contributor

A journalistic writer with an empathic soul, Hailey likes to (loudly) speak the truth and make sure everyone has a seat at the proverbial table. When not fervently championing the success of all those around her, Hailey likes to visit the Gaiser Conservatory within Manito Park, spend hours on Etsy and consume sugary treats.

Her time working at Eastern Washington University solidified her passion of advocating for those unable to advocate for themselves and establishing connections with people around the community interested in doing the same.


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