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AUDIO: Welcome to Your 21st Century Library

After a three-year closure for a top-to-bottom, inside and out renovation, Tulsa’s Central Library reopens Saturday at 11 a.m.

The makeover hasn’t been just about looks. Tulsa City-County Library CEO Gary Shaffer promised patrons are getting a 21st Century library out of the $50 million overhaul.

Central Library has a lot of what you’d expect from a branch completely renovated this side of Y2K, namely technology. But tech alone doesn’t make a 21st Century library. There's a decidedly analog space occupying the northwest corner of the first floor: the children's department.

There are plenty of books there, but there’s also plenty for kids to do. A slew of research in the late 1990s confirmed play is the way children start developing literacy skills.

"A group from Portland, Oregon, named the Burgeon Group specializes in making early literacy interactive play areas for public libraries, and they’ve created an amazing place for us," said Stacy Morehead, the Central Library assistant manager for the children’s department. "An alphabet whirligig is the first thing you’ll see when you walk in, and we’ve got a science tower, a garden café tower, and each one has different types things that kids can learn while they’re playing."

There’s a magnet wall for early STEM learning and a baby nook where parents can start infants in on the early learning. There’s also a children’s garden outside.

"We’ll be having hands-on messy activities, loud activities, bubbles, tricycles, things that you don’t normally see in what’s typically thought of as a quiet library setting," Morehead said.

And, when they’re ready in a few years, kids don’t have to go far to see Tim Smith in the Maker Space, also on the first floor.

"It’s basically a creative space that you can use 3D printers, CNC machines, screen printing, audio labs — that’s some of them that have been popping up around the country," Smith said.

Smith said the Maker Space is one way the library is trying to help lessen the impact of school programs lost to budget cuts, even if it sometimes seems silly.

"They are learning, you know, engineering. They’re learning, you know, architecture and structure and measurements, and they’re having fun with it at the same time," Smith said. "It’s fun to do these little projects, like if you want to 3D print a Batman bust or that next great idea that you’ve been dreaming of doing."

Adults are also welcome, and someone will be available to teach you how to use any equipment there.

"That’s always kind of been our approach, is it’s great that we have this new technology, but we want as many people as we can to have access to that," Smith said.

And if you create something in the Maker Space you need to put in a movie or show off online, go to the second floor to see Katlyn Seagraves in the digital literacy lab.

"This is kind of the first of its kind in the Tulsa City-County Library System. Our lab here is really going to make us a leader in libraries across the country with technology," Seagraves said.

Seagraves said literacy and digital literacy go hand-in-hand anymore, as kids use computers in and out of school, and adults use them for basics, like job applications.

"We provide, you know, digital literacy for beginners here at the library, and we always have, but this is more advanced technology," Smith said. "They can use Final Cut Pro. They can learn how to use videography equipment. We’re going to have programming classes, website design and a variety of other things that people can come in and, you know, kind of pursue their creative and technical interests."

Teaching early literacy based on the latest research, providing equipment for ongoing learning and creating, and showing Tulsans how to participate in the increasingly digital world — all with just a library card.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.