A photo tour of Albany's new libraries

Library Vertical Composite

By Liz Clancy Lerner

Millions of dollars and years of work went in to building and renovating the five Albany Public Library branches. In the year since they've opened, the branches have proven to be more than just places to store books -- they're interesting public spaces.

If you haven't gotten around to visiting them (and you should), here's a virtual tour...

Each of the libraries are different in look, feel and energy -- but there are a few features you'll find at all five. They each have free wi-fi, separate areas for teens, adults and children, comfortable chairs that have swivel "desks" for laptop use, and lots of light.

Arbor Hill/West Hill - 148 Henry Johnson Blvd - Grand Opening June 12, 2010

Arbor Hill Library Exterior

The most striking thing about the Arbor Hill/West Hill branch is its 60-foot-by-24-foot wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. It's contemporary construction in a neighborhood of mostly older buildings.

Arbor Hill Library Outside Sunlight

The bamboo front desk is the first thing you see as you enter the two sets of doors.

Arbor Hill Front Desk

Look to the right and you'll see the atrium framed by those floor-to-ceiling windows.

Arbor Hill Stacks

The high ceiling has exposed beams and vertical hanging lights. (People often assume the library has a second floor because the building is so tall.)

Arbor Hill Lights

A long stretch of bamboo benching takes up an entire wall.

Arbor Hill bench

This branch doesn't have any outdoor space, so the outside was brought in. Behind those bamboo benches sits a lush and green indoor garden.

Arbor Hill CU plant

At this library you can check out your book with the "self-serve" machine. It's being beta-tested only at Arbor Hill.

Arbor Hill Vertical Interior

The Arbor Hill branch has a collection of 75,000 items, including a large selection of African American books.

John J. Bach - 455 New Scotland Avenue - Opened May 10, 2010

Bach Exterior

The Bach is 8,500 square feet of contemporary architecture. It has an open floor plan and a glass walled rotunda that brings in lots of light and a view of New Scotland Ave.

Bach window

Look up when you walk inside and you'll see interesting molding and light fixtures that fit in well with the bright, warm colors.

Bach Bright

Many of the shelving units are set on wheels so that they can be easily moved when an event is taking place.

Bach Other View

There's plenty of seating and desk space available in front of the window and comfortable chairs with swivel desks for laptops.

Bach Study Desk

In the warmer months the "story garden" is open. Patrons are welcome to sit and read under the black walnut trees.

Bach Garden

The Bach features a new collection of 30,000 items.

Delaware - 331 Delaware Ave - Doors Opened Dec 28, 2009

Delaware Exterior

Funeral home turned hub of community happenings, the Delaware is 9,500 square feet of open-style space with exterior Prairie-style architecture.

Delaware kids room

Exposed venting, high ceilings and skylights make the building feel larger and more open than in its original form.

Delaware Skylight

The teen area at Delaware is where the embalming room used to be.

Delaware Teen

The reference desk is at the back of the building near the adult computers.

Delaware Ref Desk

Mission style furniture was chosen to give the library a warm feeling.

Delaware Mission style

And kids toys are available within the children's area and around the library.

Delaware kids toy

The branch received the 2010 Outstanding Public Library Building Award from the New York Library Association. It has 35,000 items in its collection (including a large graphic fiction section).

John A. Howe - 105 Schuyler Street - doors Opened March 15, 2010

Howe Exterior New

The Howe was built in 1929, but in 2010 an addition was added on to the side-rear of the library.

Howe Outside

It's now 12,000 square feet.

Howe Wide

The children's area is large with lots of floor space.

Howe Kids Room

It has a fireplace with a Rip Van Winkle theme.

Howe New Fireplace

(Check out Akum's story on the Howe for more detail.)

Howe Rip

The old character of the building has been maintained and restored over the years, including old floor tile.

Howe Tile

The Howe has a new collection of 35,000 items and received the 2010 Historic Preservation/Adaptive Reuse Merit Award from the Eastern New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Pine Hills - Doors Opened Nov 16, 2009 - 517 Western Ave

Pine Hills Exterior

At 19,000 square foot Pine Hills is the largest of the branches. Renovations expanded the library space in the former New York Telephone building from one floor to two.

Pine Hills Front Desk

The front desk is wide and has a great view of the large light monitor that was cut into the roof.

Pine Hills Stairup

A calming blue grand staircase is the focal point.

Pine Hill stairs angle

It takes you to the second floor where the adult computers and books sit.

Pine Hills 2nd floor

The children's section, on the first floor, is large with many places to sit.

Pine Hills Son Daughter

A fun kids wall mural is bright and cheery (look for the alligator when you visit).

Pine Hills Kid Wall

Pine Hills has a 50,000 piece collection, including a large Chinese language section of magazines, books and DVDs. Pine Hills also received the 2010 Historic Preservation/Adaptive Reuse Merit Award from the Eastern New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

A special thanks to Stephanie Simon, Patrice Hollman and Ethel LaPier of the Albany Public Library for their assistance with this piece.

The APL's branch expansion project cost more than $29 million. The system reports that circulation and visits are both up about 20 percent since the project was completed.

The library board's proposed budget for next year includes a 25 percent increase in the tax levy. The system says the new funding will cover the increased operating costs of the expanded spaces, help meet the increased demand for services, and expand hours of operation.

The public vote on the budget is May 17, the same day as the school budget vote.

Earlier on AOA: Troy's main library: an inspiration


Stunning, and inspiring. A great public resource. Makes me wish I still lived in Albany.

Great photos of a very welcome library expansion. Although I tend to visit the Pine Hills Branch most (it's on my way to/from work), I've found that the smaller Bach Branch (which is within walking distance of my home) is a good alternative if I need a quick fix, much like a convenience store. Of course, after this, I may have to make a stop at the Arbor Hills branch--it looks incredible!

I visit the Pine Arbor Hill branches often and am in love with them. They are always very busy and full of happy families and youth. I hope and pray that the budget passes so the services can continue at the same level.

I love seeing the new look of these libraries. Great photo tour!

Has anybody noticed that libraries aren't as quiet as they used to be? When I was growing up in the 80's, you weren't supposed to talk above a whisper. Now there seems to be a lot of loud talking (bordering on screaming) and running around at the library - my Bach Branch in particular. How is anybody that is there to read supposed to concentrate?

If you love Albany's libraries, please remember to show your support by voting YES to the proposed budget on Tuesday, May 17. More info at:

Yes the noise level at most branches is out of control and very rarely addressed by staff. As far as the vote is concerned I'm torn, while I use the library system often, yet another increase is asked for (from property owners of course). When my dollars are fewer and fewer I find it hard to vote for any increase.

Wasn't there a branch in North Albany, off Broadway?

As for the vote on the budget, I do plan to vote Yes on the proposed budget because I'm a weekly library user and it's well worth my money. However, the public really has a right to some better answers on the miscalculation on how much these branches were going to cost to operate after the initial building and/or renovation costs. The lack of accountability is pretty pathetic and may make it hard for some people to enthusiastically vote for yet another increase.

Black walnuts and gardens don't go together as the walnuts release a poison into the ground. Hope they are planting resistant plants.

Sooooooo, is anyone going to address the sheer amount of DVD theft that goes on in the branches that the staff refuses to address aside from writing it off? They can't be bothered to put the discs behind the counter. :(

The libraries are wonderful and are the best possible use of public money--vote yes on the library budget. There is no other tax I pay as willingly. DVD and CD theft is a problem that needs to be addressed better. The libraries need signs out front to show that they are public libraries.

I don't work at Albany Public and never have, but I've worked in a lot of libraries. Re: noise concerns, I've always been hesitant to tell people to shut their traps while in the library. We want people to feel welcome, and being chased down and shushed isn't very welcoming.

It comes down to the broader question of what a public library is. Is it a community hub or a peaceful and silent place for reading and study?

Libraries should always be a quiet place. Large signs that are tactful and to the point might serve as a reminder. Children should be told to speak in soft voices because others might be reading or studying.

It happens I don't use the public libraries as my primary place for quiet reading so it's not that big a deal for me, but I'm somewhat on the side of quiet in libraries. (Of course, I'm on the side of quiet damn near everywhere and when I start going deaf, it'll be something of relief.) I don't expect silence out of young children in a library, but it's not a bad thing to instill values of consideration in children. You know, "indoor voices" at least. The public library may indeed be a "community hub," but not all community spaces have to function in the same way.

Well said, chrisck. I have two daughters, and have been foster dad to eight others. A part of maturity is learning a sense of what is appropriate to a given context (like Solomon's "a time for everything"). That's something I hope my children learn, and something that I hope they grasp is built on the principle of respect for others. Part of living in community with others is learning to live in consideration of others, and knowing the impact our actions have on them. It's definitely one of those lessons easier learned younger rather than later.

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