On November 23, 2001, at 10:00 a.m., Santa Claus opens the doors to the new Library Connection @ Crossroads, the King County Library System's new library space in the Crossroads Mall. This begins a day of stories, music, and family fun, to launch an experiment with a new kind of library that will reach out to the increasingly diverse population of East Bellevue at one of the principal places where residents dine and shop. The idea is to reach a population that might not otherwise go to the more traditional library nearby, the Lake Hills Library, under which the new Library Connection will be administered. In the first six months after the opening, library usage in East Bellevue, with Crossroads added to the existing Lake Hills Library, will more than double -- a result exceeding even the rosiest forecasts.
Library Space in the Mall
The Crossroads Mall was first opened in 1962. By the mid-1980s, it was an aging relic, with empty storefronts, graffiti, and a high crime rate. Enter Ron Sher (b. 1942) and his company, Terranomics Development, which brought an imaginative and inclusive approach to redevelopment of the mall. This included bookstores, an international food court, a giant chessboard, and a community stage for local performers. Then, in 2001, Sher offered space to the King County Library System (KCLS), which was eagerly accepted. Sher, who founded Third Place Books and also owned Seattle's Elliott Bay Bookstore for a time, said "I think people should read ... But I don't think they have to own every book they read" (Holt).
According to KCLS interior designer David Scott-Risner, who worked on the project, the idea of a library outlet in a mall was nothing short of revolutionary. Sher and Scott-Risner conceived it as a modern embodiment of the Agora -- the Greek market in which culture and commerce lived side-by-side and complemented one another. At the time the Library Connection @ Crossroads opened, the mall featured Half Price Books at its entryway, a Department of Licensing outlet, a Bellevue City Hall substation, and a police precinct house. The Library Connection fit right in to the concept of a vibrant and practical public forum for commerce and ideas.
Grand Opening, Immediate Success
At the grand opening on Friday, November 23, 2001, Santa Claus opened the doors to the new Library Connection @ Crossroads, and story-telling, musical performances, and other opening-day entertainment followed in the new library space. The success of the concept was evident almost immediately. Robin Rothschild, who was head librarian for both the new Crossroads Library and the Lake Hills Library, told a Seattle Times columnist that in the first few hours on that first day Crossroads checked out 540 books, almost 200 more than Lake Hills did in the same time period. Within six months after the Library Connection opened in the mall, library usage in East Bellevue had more than doubled.
According to Sher, Crossroads was built to celebrate diversity. In the international food court just outside the entrance to the Library Connection, a world of languages wafted through the air, as people and families from all over the world enjoyed themselves. Ton Thuy, from Viet Nam, told a reporter who visited not long after the opening day, "You cannot find anything like this in Ho Chi Minh City ... There are libraries in schools, but not like this, not for the people" (Holt).
The Crossroads Library was renovated in 2005 and again in 2006, expanding from 2,200 to 2,900 and then 3,740 square feet. The renovations opened the library space directly onto the mall's food court and created a cyber-bar along the entrance from the mall. With its focus on tech and world languages, its placement in the mall, and its contemporary feel, Crossroads Library attracted more than 564,000 visits in 2015 -- a phenomenal traffic count for such a small library. By way of comparison, the large downtown Bellevue Library, which was 80,000 square feet, only had about 69,000 more visits in 2015. Crossroads continued to have strong circulation numbers as well, with nearly 453,000 items checked out in 2015. That was roughly 100,000 more items than were checked out of Lake Hills Library, to which Crossroads was viewed as a satellite. And computer usage at Crossroads was phenomenal -- in more than 89,000 separate sessions in 2015, patrons clocked an astonishing two million minutes, or 3.8 years, online.