Columbus Metropolitan Library leaders knew the Whitehall branch was the epitome of 21st-century design when the 20,000-square-foot library opened in April 2015 at 4445 E. Broad St.

Customers soon learned, too, vaulting the branch to No. 5 in visits and No. 11 in circulated items in 2016 among the system's 23 branches.

The American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association added praise to the popularity in April, naming the branch one of the best new libraries in the world.

Just eight libraries -- seven in the United States and one in Latvia -- made the list.

"The Whitehall branch really is reflective of Columbus Metropolitan Library's vision for a 21st-century library," said Ben Zenitsky, a spokesman for Columbus Metropolitan Library.

"It has a flexibly designed open floor plan with walls of windows for natural light and great sight lines for customers and passersby," Zenitsky said.

The six-member jury that named the libraries included three members of each of the two groups.

Among the American Institute of Architects members on the jury was Alexander Lamis, a partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects in New York City.

Jurors did not visit the libraries but rather reviewed about 50 applications that included illustrations, Lamis said.

Jonathan Barnes Architecture and Designs, architects of the Whitehall branch, nominated it for consideration.

"It's a high-quality design ... laid out in a logical way that allows for flexibility to meet future needs," Lamis said.

The focus on natural lighting is in keeping with the evolution of how new libraries often are designed, Lamis said.

"This honor is a testament to our forward-thinking library system," said Columbus Metropolitan Library CEO Patrick Losinski, who shared credit with the city of Whitehall and Mayor Kim Maggard for the system's achievement.

Losinski added a $750,000 gift from the estate of Carol Snowden played "an integral role" in helping make Whitehall's "21st-century library a reality."

Carol Snowden, who died in 2008, was a librarian for 30 years in the children's area at the former Whitehall branch.

The $750,000 gift was used to build a children's library named in her honor within the new branch.

The new $8.5 million, 20,000-square-foot library replaced a 7,500-square-foot library that opened in 1959 at 4371 E. Broad St., west of the new library.

"The natural lighting here is more inviting, especially if (you're) walking or driving past," said Tatjana Misanovic, customer services manager at the Whitehall branch.

The open floor plan allows nearly panoramic views from inside and outside, Misanovic said.

"It beckons you to come explore," she said.

Among the customers who regularly explore the Whitehall branch are Wayne Browning, 65, and Ed Brown Jr., 54, both Whitehall residents.

"I like the wide-open spaces here," said Brown, who visits the library for job searches and to check e-mail.

The other seven new, expanded or renovated libraries joining the Whitehall branch on the list are the Stapleton branch of the New York Public Library; the Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center in New Orleans; the Central Library of Boston; the University of Oregon Allan Price Science Commons and Research Library in Eugene, Oregon; the East Boston Branch Library; the Varina Area Library in Henrico, Virginia; and the National Library of Latvia in Riga.

"More than being simply a vault for books, the (Whitehall) branch serves as a welcoming community-gathering place," Zenitsky said.

To read more about the eight selected libraries, visit tinyurl.com/whitehalllibrary.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo