Skip to content

New library CEO: Junction East to bring ‘21st century library’

Greater Sudbury Public Library CEO Brian Harding said the Junction East Cultural Hub, which city council recently greenlit, will be a vast improvement from their current 70-year-old main branch downtown and bring them in line with best practices for modern libraries
180722_TC_Library 2
Greater Sudbury Public Library CEO Brian Harding is seen with conceptual drawings of the Junction East Cultural Hub in the 70-year-old current main library branch on MacKenzie Street downtown. 

A tour of the Greater Sudbury Public Library system’s main branch on MacKenzie Street reveals a functional library with constraints befitting a building designed in the 1950s. 

The building, after all, was built 70 years ago to accommodate library use of the day, which has changed drastically since then to become much more than a place to find books.

So described Greater Sudbury Public Library CEO Brian Harding during a recent walkthrough of the downtown library, which feeds the city’s 13-library system. 

“It’s showing its age,” he said of the existing building, adding that although they routinely receive positive feedback on its appearance, which might call to question the need for a new facility in some people’s eyes, it’s often from people accustomed to the current library system.

There’s much greater potential in the Junction East Cultural Hub, he said — a $98.5-million downtown building city council approved for construction next to the Sudbury Theatre Centre. In addition to accommodating a new main library branch, the project is to include accommodations for the Art Gallery of Sudbury and the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association. The library will make up much of the building’s 104,000 square feet of total space, including much of the building’s first floor, and all of the second and third floors of the four-storey building.

Reflecting on the proposed building’s blueprints in the main branch’s basement boardroom, Harding told the new building will blow the existing facility out of the water. 

Although he said they’ve “tried to stay on top of current trends and really help to define those trends,” they’ve fallen well short of their potential due to the current building’s constraints.

“Junction East is going to represent absolutely the best practices of public libraries in Ontario,” Harding said. “It’s going to be a gem in the province.”

Library users whose frame of reference is exclusively what Greater Sudbury has to offer might be surprised by the scope of the proposed building, Harding said, while those familiar with how libraries have evolved during the past 70 years will better understand what they’re aiming for.

“The experience that other people in other communities in southern Ontario have when they go into a public library, people in Sudbury are going to have that experience, too,” he said.

“Other communities have this, this isn’t luxurious by any means, but Greater Sudbury deserves this, they deserve to have 21st-century library services.”

The proposed building’s blueprints are in stark contrast to the existing main branch, which became clear during a tour with in which Harding enthusiastically pointed out the differences.

It’s a project he has been working toward for almost a decade, and which his predecessors have been working on since the need for a new library was first identified in the ’90s. 

After helping get the ball rolling on the new library several years ago, Harding relocated to southern Ontario for a few years only to return to take over as CEO in January.  

“Coming back to work on this project and seeing this project through is a big motivator, for sure,” he said. 

“We’re an innovative library, and we have been for the last several years, and the trajectory we’re on is very promising. This building is great, and I think it’s in many ways the final piece of the puzzle that’s really going to put us in the next level of library services for this city.”

The main differences between libraries

The existing main branch of the Greater Sudbury Public Library opens to a main desk to the left and tables and chairs to the right, which serves as the building’s main gathering area for events.

Tucked in behind is their magazine collection.

“If we have an event ongoing on and someone wants to access magazines … they can’t,” Harding said, adding that they’ll occasionally pause events so people can access items.

Although the new facility will include a focus on multi-purpose spaces, this isn’t what they’re talking about, he said, and the new building will include a few accessible rooms for public gatherings which won’t interfere with other library services.

The Junction East Cultural Hub’s main entrance facing Shaughnessy Street will open into a shared space by the building’s three user groups and will include a maker space, where people can engage in various creative activities.

The existing library’s maker space, in the main branch’s basement, is limited by its size and ventilation, which doesn’t allow for such activities as using a laser cutter.

“Because it’s a new building, purpose-built, we have the ability to structure it the way we want it structured,” Harding said, adding that the same applies to the facility’s computers. The existing library’s public computers are confined to a small bank in the middle of the building, whereas the proposed facility will allow computers to be spread throughout. 

Two meeting rooms in the current library’s basement are isolated and without natural light, whereas the proposed building will have not only additional meeting rooms with windows to the outside world, but also a handful of smaller study rooms designed for up to four people. 

“We see this as community space, and finding free rentable community space is extremely limited,” Harding said, adding that with some people still working from home, there’s high demand for spaces such as these.

The current library has a few displays featuring books’ front covers rather than just their spines, which will be bolstered by a greater display in the new building’s main floor, while the book stacks on the second floor will be lower than those currently on display in the existing building.

This, Harding said, will help make their collection more accessible to people with mobility devices and those shorter in stature. The lowest shelf on each stack will also be higher and angled upward so people don’t have to lean over as much to sift through the collection.

“If you have a physical disability that requires you to have access in a particular way, we don’t want that to be identified as being exceptional,” Harding said. Accessibility factored heavily into the new building’s design, which includes a long ramp leading from the first to second floor.

The new library will have a much larger children’s area than that offered in the existing building, which will allow kids to be as loud as they want on the second floor, while the third floor of the building will include a “pin-drop quiet” encased local history area.

This, Harding said, will allow the public greater access to the collection, which is currently partly stored in a private area within the downtown branch’s basement. With much of the collection consisting of the only known copies of certain materials, the new climate controls and flood-free situation on the building's third floor will also alleviate some current concerns.

Various seating areas fill out the balance of the proposed building, whose open concept will allow opportunity for “people-watching,” Harding said, as it’s intended as not only a cultural hub, but a community hub where people can gather to socialize.

Coffee shops and various other spaces offer similar services, but come at a financial cost. The public library system is an inclusive space intended for everyone, free of charge.

“It connects a community, it provides a junction point in many ways,” Harding said. “We connect people to information, but we also connect people to each other. … You don’t have to control your volume, you can laugh, you can bump into other people.”

For major events such as the Olympics, a screen will be set up in “the community’s living room” for people to take it in together, which Harding said will help connect those who don’t have a television or access to programming at home.

When the Junction East Cultural Hub is fully operational, Harding anticipates seeing the library use double compared to the existing downtown facility. 

“If you build a modern facility, people will use it more than they use a 70-year-old, deteriorating facility,” Harding said. “Literally anyone can come and use it from across Greater Sudbury, it’s got appeal for everyone.”

Greater Sudbury staff are expected to provide a project update to city council on Oct. 4, a construction tender is expected to be issued by the first quarter of 2023 and a grand opening is planned for the spring of 2025. 

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for


Verified reader

If you would like to apply to become a verified commenter, please fill out this form.

Tyler Clarke

About the Author: Tyler Clarke

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for
Read more