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Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011

On Common Ground

Villard Square Library Opens

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There was much to march and cheer about on Oct.15, when a parade came drumming up Villard Avenue to celebrate the grand opening of the Villard Square Library, 5190 N. 35th St. A sparkling package assembled from various financial sources, above the first floor library are three stories of apartment homes waiting to be leased by grandparents who are the primary caregivers. A neighborly world unto itself, the library was packed for the opening, and so it's fitting that Browser The Library Lion circulated. Our mayor stood nearby.

Designed by local folks for
local folks, two local artists (Paul Kjelland and Nicolas Lampert), rose to the top in a competition heavy on community meetings and extensive input. Those who believe art hung in libraries is little more than “wall paper” will find the art is welcoming, informative and relevant to the building. Kjelland helped renovate the Riverwest Public House (a cooperative effort), and he volunteers on occasion to pour a few. That said, he's an artist, interior designer, and a photographer who put his skills to good use in the Villard project. Lampert is a local celeb of sorts, what with his 10-foot rotisserie chicken seen now and then around town, but he's also heavy into collage and art-as-social statement.

For this project, they listened, learned and earned the Villard Square public art assignment, the fee for which was equally split by the Milwaukee Arts Board and the Friends of the Library. Generous in their praise of those who suggested, requested, and brought everything into play, the two worked right up until the Oct. 15 parade. It's notable that they decided not to sign their work. Their decision was the right one. The focus remains on community and not on the duo per se. None of their work shouts. It's perfect.


At a long table set again a north wall of glass, sit three young volunteers: Peter, Squeaky and Calvin, in charge of cookies, apples and cider. Squeaky is eager to say that the library makes it easy to find things, and Calvin observes it is “very modern.” Peter jumps in with “my grandmother used to go to the old library,” east on the street where the parade began at 3310 W.Villard Avenue.


The building's shell was designed and built by Gorman, with interior design by Engberg Anderson, and what they've accomplished is terrific. With curves galore, window seats
plumped with upholstery, funky chairs and a see-through gas fireplace (the only fireplace in our library system), it's where most neighbors and visitors are going to want to be. High-efficiency lights point to sections for young readers, a section set with a round slate-blue table punctuated with cushy poufs in M&M hues. Computers wink and blink. Two visitors signed on to Facebook. I passed a shelf marked “Folk & Fairytales.”

A chap from Atlanta, wearing a “Bibliotheca 
ITG” shirt, ws here for the event. He came to make sure the automated material handling unit (a book sorter), is functioning properly. It uses chip technology to track what's taken out and what's returned.

In a small room at the south end of the library, on the wall, is a 1960s sculpture made of metal and wood. Moved from the old library, the horizontal and vertical elements (arranged in a modernist mode), link past to present to future.