Several people behind a planned new digital library stood at a vacant former Borders bookstore Wednesday in central Omaha and envisioned it alive with intellectual energy.
Moms could bring children to a story hour with iPads, then linger to do interactive reading activities.
People without computers or good Internet service at home could apply for jobs.
Students could work on school or university projects that could benefit from fast access to the great libraries of the world.
Startup entrepreneurs, hungry digital artists and aspiring video game developers could plug in to the library’s advanced software or 3D printers to work on business plans, artistic dreams and scientific visions.
Mike McCarthy, a board member of Omaha nonprofit Heritage Services, said he could foresee people creating prosthetic limbs using the 3-D printers in the new library.
McCarthy, announcing the library Wednesday afternoon, said it will be unique, the first of its kind in the country.
He’s among Omaha philanthropists who will transform the former Borders property at 7201 Dodge St.
The library will be aimed at offering the entire community access to the latest digital information and technology, education in using it and equipment in spaces designed to foster creativity.
Heritage Services, which is led by some of Omaha’s biggest names in business and philanthropy, will renovate the building. Private donations will pay for the renovations and for the first four years of the library’s operations.
It will be run by the Community Information Trust, a private nonprofit corporation established for the purpose of creating and operating a digital library.
The Omaha Public Library and Metropolitan Community College will be partners. Omaha library employees will help the digital library staff develop programs and content. Metro will offer classes and user training there.
Some of the college’s instruction — such as a lesson on how to use Photoshop image-editing software — will be free, said Randy Schmailzl, the community college’s president. Others, such as college classes, would require fees.
“This space, now an empty box, will invite everyone who wants to learn, just as our current library system does, and add extraordinary access to the tools of technology,” McCarthy said.
But, he said, “the space will not just be a digital pipeline.”
It will “include education and mentorship so that everyone can access emerging technology and pursue their dreams, both large and small.”
McCarthy said the organizers chose 72nd and Dodge Streets because the site is in the heart of Omaha, “with great access to all parts of our city.”
The Borders store closed in 2011. The Community Information Trust bought the vacant building and parking lots in August for $4.1 million.
The facility should be open by Nov. 1.
Heritage Services President Sue Morris said she hopes construction will begin soon after the first of the year.
The building will be gutted, wired for technology and renovated inside and out. It won’t look like a Borders bookstore when it’s done, Morris said.
Heritage Services would not reveal a cost estimate. Morris said fundraising is underway, with support already coming from “several generous donors.”
“The response has been very positive,” she said.
Leadership on the community trust board includes Heritage Services board members Walter Scott Jr., David Slosburg, McCarthy and Morris.
Scott, Heritage Services’ co-founder and chairman, said the facility will be “a library of the 21st century.”
It “will help position the Omaha community as a leader in access to, and understanding of, the digital world in which we all live,” he said.
The backers said the new library will employ innovations used elsewhere, such as in Seattle and San Antonio, but will be unique in its nature as a stand-alone digital library and with its programming.
Omaha Public Library Director Gary Wasdin worked with Heritage Services in researching programs and facilities around the country. He said the new center will help develop programs that can be used in other Omaha libraries.
The new library’s creation won’t affect the status of Swanson Library at 90th Street and West Dodge Road, or the W. Dale Clark Library downtown.
Wasdin said neither of those libraries nor other existing libraries could accommodate the technology and programming of the new facility.
They lack low-tech and high-tech components: parking and bandwidth, Wasdin said. And it would be difficult to retrofit the needed wiring into older buildings, he said.
The new library will include individual computer stations with access to library databases around the world, dedicated children’s areas for interactive story times, innovation labs for creation in a digital environment and production areas featuring 3-D printers, according to a press release.
“That’s where it really gets exciting,” Wasdin said. “To see what people can do when they get their hands on these tools.”
People will need an Omaha Public Library card to use the center, Wasdin said.
Those are free to residents of Douglas County, and available for fees — $75 annually or $25 for four months — to people who live outside Douglas County.
The location at 72nd and Dodge Streets is accessible by bus from all parts of the city, and that was part of the appeal for donors.
“All Omahans will benefit from increased access to all the good things technology can provide — the opportunity to learn, to explore and to create,” McCarthy said. “This space will welcome everyone from our children learning to read and our grandparents applying for Social Security, to the emerging creative class who will develop the tools and products of the future, to our next generation of entrepreneurs.”
The Wednesday announcement drew City Council members Pete Festersen, Ben Gray and Rich Pahls, as well as Omaha Public Library Board President Mike Meyer and several Heritage Services leaders.
Afterward, they gathered in small groups inside the old bookstore and buzzed. Wasdin stood near empty bookshelves crammed into a corner of the mostly vacant building.
“This place,” he said, “will be bustling.”
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