Spacious, light-filled and integral to the community—new library opens in Empire

From staff reports

“It’s so beautiful, it almost brings tears to my eyes,” Glen Lake Community Library director David Diller overheard a former volunteer say recently when she toured the spacious, light-filled and inviting new library, which reopened on September 8 on 10115 W. Front Street in downtown Empire.

“People are sort of overwhelmed,” said Diller.

Click here to watch a video tour of the library.

A mainstay of the community, this new library opens onto Front Street and features an entrance plaza with an outdoor sign that glows from within and lights up during the evening hours, a bicycle parking area, and a donor wall in the entryway that features the names of individuals, families and businesses who generously contributed to the library. “That reflects how widespread the community support for this project has been,” said Diller.

When you enter the library, itself, you’ll marvel at the high ceilings and natural light entering through the building’s many windows. “On a sunny day, you could almost turn the lights off and still be able to read,” said Diller. Public computers and new media displays sit in the main lobby adjacent to the service desk. The small study tables, reading lounge, classy modern furniture and gas fireplace might convince you to linger here all day. One rack of materials near the fireplace features a Michigan history section.

Tables in a study area on the south side of the building afford privacy and a view out the back window to a green space which, Diller said, will eventually be landscaped and feature a rain garden of native plants. During warm days, patrons can sit on benches outside and gaze up at the majestic maple tree anchoring the property.

On the west side, in the library’s original footprint, check out the window seats in the nook—or better yet, the expansive kids’ play area, featuring board books for children of all ages, graphic novels, and outlines of friendly animals watching over you from each row of books. 

“We look forward to seeing kids and families here” post-COVID, said Diller, who said the library can host some small gatherings, but all in-person official programming is on hold for now. The building’s unofficial capacity during the pandemic is 25 people.

The library also features an enclosed study room available for small groups (such as a family that recently reserved it so their children could complete their virtual schooling homework) and a spacious back conference room with a large-screen television for future movies or indoor gatherings, and linoleum floors “so we can throw paint around here,” said Diller, who adds he’s anxious for the community to use this conference room space, once it’s safe to do so.

“It’s an unusual time, to say the least,” he said. “We’re pleased we were able to go ahead with this project and open only 4-5 months behind schedule.”

All told, the library occupies two village lots and has a footprint of 5,800 square feet—that’s nearly double the space of the previous library, a long narrow building that was accessible through a side entrance (the front door was used only to deposit returns, and as an emergency exit).

Diller, who started working at the Glen Lake Library in 1997, said that, by 2013, books and multimedia had filled the building, space was limited. and the staff were “literally up against the wall.” There was little room for people and activities. The need for an expansion was clear.

Diller and the library board of trustees looked at a few other sites and considered rebuilding on a new property, said Diller, but quickly decided the community preference was to stay in downtown Empire. The library approached homeowners on both sides of the building. As it happened, the neighbors to the east, Mark and Vicki Finstad, wanted to sell their home. The library worked out an agreement to buy the property and committed to the expansion project.

The Finstads lot was cleared the following year, in 2014, and construction began in 2019. The library moved temporarily to the former home of Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in the green building on M-22, south of downtown Empire for 16 months, from April 2019 until September 2020, until the new building was complete.

The Glen Lake Community Library is integral to Empire, a village known for its public Lake Michigan beach and as a gateway community to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, but which has lacked a grocery store since April 2018. Libraries are integral to every community. According to, a website of the Public Library Association, reasons why your library is the most important place in town include the following: 

• Libraries help revitalize struggling or depressed neighborhoods and downtowns.

• Libraries are important partners in sustainability.

• Libraries’ special collections grow out of specific community needs.

• Archives preserve historic artifacts, oral histories, digital history projects, and monographs relevant to the community, including minority groups.

• Libraries are places where people come to know themselves and their communities.

• Libraries serve as catalysts for addressing social problems.

• Libraries, which champion, promote, and reflect important democratic values, are a part of the community’s political life.

• Library buildings as architectural structures are culturally relevant.

• Libraries provide important business resources, especially for small local businesses.

• Libraries provide information, resources, and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexed, and questioning (LGBTIQ) patrons.

• Libraries provide information, resources, and support for patrons with disabilities.

• Libraries provide access to nonmainstream points of view and give voice to local artists.

• Libraries provide opportunities for free classes that encourage art appreciation as well as art participation.

• Libraries provide access to the arts for all, not just those who can afford them.

• Libraries serve as the “people’s university.”

• Libraries offer opportunities for remote access, making it possible for those who can’t get to the library to still access the library’s cultural and educational offerings.

• Libraries go beyond providing content to enabling patrons to create their own content.

• Libraries promote civil discourse.

• Libraries teach teens important life skills. 

• Free tutoring, homework help programs, and summer reading programs for kids and teens help bridge the economic divide that impacts students’ academic performance.

• Libraries are important partners in child development.