Downtown Silver Spring’s library opened just over a week ago, and it’s more than just a building full of books. The new library is full of things that are there to help the community, like meeting spaces and a coffee shop and, in the future, a transit stop.

Residents at the new library’s grand opening. Images by the author unless otherwise noted.

Downtowns and town centers are reemerging as increasingly important parts of their communities, and libraries are a big part of that. Parents, for example, can bring their kids during the day before hosting a book club meeting later that evening, and community leaders can use the space to host their meetings.

Meeting space at the library.

Libraries are also not strictly quiet places like they once were. Vibrancy and social connections are a big part of the library experience. You can meet friends, or have kids’ play dates — here, you’d do that in the new “Early Literacy Center” on the 5th floor. If you do want the traditional solitude, you can go to a designated “quiet” room, where you can join students quietly typing on their laptops or visitors reading the newspaper.

The library’s design puts community first

Why has Silver Spring’s library become such a community focal point for residents? After the closure of Border’s Books and the rather large Mayorga coffee shop, downtown Silver Spring was left few community gathering areas. Back in 2008, when it came time for the community to give input on the library, people knew they wanted an urban, community-friendly structure.

Among the items included a bulky pedestrian bridge that would connect the library to Silver Spring’s main parking garage. Although the bridge concept was cancelled, the library’s final plan actually included even more add-ons and amenities. For example, when residents learned that the new plan would include a coffee shop within the building, they raised over $53k to support the opening of a “second location” of the popular local Kefa CafĂ©, right inside the library’s main entrance.

Kefa Cafe at the library.

In addition to a coffee bar, the library also features other unusual features such as the “Genius Bar” like reception desk, where patrons can check out an E-Reader or a laptop as well as get traditional research expertise from librarians.

Finally, the soon-to-open “Bonifant - Library Residences” will feature 149 mixed-income condos focusing on seniors that will also include 10,000 square feet of additional retail space directly next to the library.

Bonifant Library Residences image from Montgomery County.

This isn’t the first time Silver Spring residents have come together to shape their community. Back in 1992, when Mall of America wanted to build the “American Dream” mega-mall in downtown Silver Spring, the residents rose up to fight the behemoth structure. What they wanted instead was community-focused development that truly represented the neighborhood. Today, the Silver Spring Library represents a legacy of this kind of community engagement and is a model for downtown libraries all over the nation.

A rendering of the Purple Line in front of the Silver Spring library. Image from Montgomery County.

The library will have its own Purple Line stop

The new Silver Spring Library has a host of features that aren’t traditional for libraries.

For starters, a Purple Line stop is going to run through it, setting it up to become one of the first in the nation to include a built-in train station that will connect it to major regional transportation lines.

Purple Line route map from the Maryland Transportation Authority.

In the future, library patrons will be able to take the Purple Line directly to University of Maryland’s campus for further research or take a quick ride to the Silver Spring Transit Center to connect to Metro lines.