Adapting a 100-year-old library for the future

Owatonna is a community of around 30,000 located one hour south of the Twin Cites. Built in 1901, the Owatonna Public Library has high ceilings and big windows that pull natural daylight deep into the library collection and programming spaces, as well as larger meeting spaces and an incredible outdoor community learning garden.

A two level addition was added in 1992, but the library has remained virtually unchanged since that time.

This was the challenge presented to a group of library directors from around the country at an interactive design charrette facilitated by Mindy Sorg and Toby Olsen of OPN Architects at the 2022 Library Journal Design Institute in Missoula, Montana.

Change the layout of the library to better reflect the needs of its users.

“My main goal is to change the perception of what our library can be by offering up more meeting spaces, new shelving, new circulation desks and new furniture. I know we are not reinventing the wheel when it comes to the library being a communal space, but for our community, there is so much untapped potential.” (Library Director Mark Blando)

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Participants were armed with the floor plans of the library, blocks to represent spaces, sticky notes, markers, and 60 minutes to explore opportunities to create a welcoming and positive first impression, create additional meeting space, and update spaces and rooms to reflect the needs of the growing community. At the end of the hour, the groups presented their design solutions and recommendations,  all of which increased natural light, curated distinct user areas, rearranged staff areas for increased circulation and accessibility, and created a more welcoming space for all patrons.

Our challenge is to change the layout of the library to better reflect the needs of our users. (Library Director Mark Blando)

This will mean letting go of a large collection of books to a focus on community spaces, a more open floorplan and a more contemporary feel to our furnishings and design. The library received a grant for a new makerspace which will be acatalyst for a new look and layout, including partnerships with industries in the community that can help us with materials and fabrication. They will focus on more efficient staff/patron services points to make staff more visible and to give them better access to stacks and a more open work area. Shelving will be shorter and less cavernous.

Owatonna is not alone in its mission to create a more community-centric space. Libraries have evolved significantly over the last 20 years. In that time, OPN has designed more than 40 libraries across the country. While some may question the relevancy of libraries in today’s digital age, we have seen first-hand that these most public of all institutions are still critical to a community’s well-being.

Mindy Sorg

Senior Interior Designer and Library Specialist Mindy Sorg  on “Planning for a People-Centered Future.”



“Modern library design starts with immersing ourselves in the community — not just the portions that already use the library.”





Toby Olsen

Associate Partner and Library Designer Toby Olsen on how libraries can not only reflect the culture of their communities but center equity and inclusion in the design and construction process.

“Trustees and library planners need to work with other community leaders. These are the groups our community needs to represent better. The key is meeting people as they are where they are.”









Design Institute is a bi-annual library building and design event hosted by Library Journal. The event brings together librarians and architects to collaborate on pressing challenges regarding library facilities to meet contemporary needs.