A few days before its old headquarters closes, the St. Louis County Library announced a $6 million gift that will help transform its flagship branch and give it a new name.
When it reopens in late 2023, the Clark Family Branch will herald the family of the founder of Clayco, a construction and design firm.
The Ladue building, a $22 million project, will still be the place to go for major author events, although library administrators now have their own offices on Spoede Road.
“This is the biggest gift we’ve ever received,” said Kristen Sorth, the library system’s director and CEO. “We’re super excited about it and touched by the gift.”
Of the donation, $4 million is for naming and may be used for the building project; $2 million is earmarked to further educational programming.
“Community improvement has always been one of my core values, and I am thrilled to help bring this beautiful, modern library to the greater St. Louis community,” Bob Clark said in a news release.
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“The nonvirtual aspects of public libraries were strongly missed during the pandemic and are now being reinvented with more accessible exterior space, artful design and cultural initiatives that better serve their neighborhoods. The impact of public libraries is evolving, and I am excited to invest in their limitless potential.”
Clark founded Clayco in St. Louis more than three decades ago. The company moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2013 but still employs hundreds in St. Louis County. It now has six affiliate companies with some 2,600 employees. In 2021, the company’s revenue was estimated at $4.5 billion.
One of Clayco’s affiliates, the Lamar Johnson Collaborative, designed the new library branch, which will be a two-story, 74,000-square-foot building with an outdoor courtyard and second-floor reading deck. The library’s genealogy center will be upstairs with teen and children’s spaces.
Among its amenities, the library, 1640 South Lindbergh Boulevard, will have 19 private study rooms, a computer lab, a creative space with a 3-D printer and recording studio, and an event space for up to 800.
The only other county library branch named in connection with a donor is the Samuel C. Sachs branch; Sachs’ son, Louis Sachs, donated land in Chesterfield for the building.
The headquarters closes May 28, with demolition slated for July. A construction company will be chosen in the coming weeks. It is the final project in the over $120 million master plan that called for renovation or replacement of 19 libraries. (A 20th library, Eureka Hills, was built last year; an additional project, the Lynn Beckwith Jr. Administrative Building, was finished this year.) Financing has come mostly from a $.06 tax increase approved by county voters in 2012.
The aging headquarters building opened in 1960.
The county library system celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, with events to mark the occasion in the works for summer.
While the new Clark Family Branch is under construction, patrons can use any other library: Oak Bend in Kirkwood and Mid-County in Clayton and Thornhill near Creve Coeur are among the closest. Genealogy materials will temporarily move to the Daniel Boone Branch.
The library will hold major author events in coordination with the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. The first event at the JCC is June 1 and features Jeff Nussbaum, speechwriter for President Joe Biden and author of “Undelivered: The Never-Heard Speeches that Would Have Re-Written History.”
The library has made several other changes recently:
• It quietly changed the name of the Indian Trails Branch to Parkview Branch. Patrons in Vinita Park had not complained about the original name, Sorth said, but staff members felt it was inappropriate and suggested alternatives. The library system announced the name change on social media in March but did not send out a news release.
• Nine branches will offer in-person, free lunches to children this summer. For details see slcl.org/summer-lunches.
• Free notary service is available at every library branch, Monday-Saturday.
• The Mid-County Branch will offer Sunday hours from 1 to 5 p.m. starting on June 5; other branches with Sunday hours are Florissant Valley, Grant’s View and Daniel Boone.
• Meeting rooms can be reserved this year by the public starting July 1 (they were not used during the pandemic). Room reservations for next year open the first Saturday in October.
• Circulation rose 10 percent in April over April 2021, due to the merger of the county’s catalog with the St. Louis Public Library catalog. County residents made more requests than city residents did: 8,212 items were sent from the city to county patrons. The county library sent 3,983 items to city patrons. Among the most popular requests for each library were nonfiction hardcovers, along with fiction and children’s books for county readers and DVDs and video games for city patrons.
Combined, county and city patrons checked out 1,309,416 items from the merged system.