The library system begins a new chapter next month.

Southwest Public Libraries will dedicate the expanded Youth Services Department at the Westland Area Library, 4740 W. Broad St., at 11 a.m. March 23. The public dedication will feature tours of the new space and other activities.

The 3,670-square-foot expansion brings Westland's footprint at the Lincoln Village Shopping Center to nearly 30,000 square feet. To compare, when the library system first opened a branch in Prairie Township in 1972, the space was 6,000 square feet. Since then, the number of people who use the library and the demand for library service have only grown.

With the additional space, the staff will have more flexibility regarding the type of children's programming to be offered. The former space easily became crowded and made certain programs difficult to host. The new space alleviates those issues.

Along with additional programming space, the expansion includes a new sensory room. Like Harper's Grove at Grove City Library, 3959 Broadway, the sensory room is an early literacy section designed to help children develop the skills they need as they learn to read. The room is equipped with specialized computers, toys, tables and other tools that stimulate motor skills, creativity and imagination.

Southwest Public Libraries' goal is to serve as the community's center for lifelong learning.

With the sensory room and other programs and services, the staff will begin fulfilling that responsibility with the library's youngest patrons

Support for the sensory room came from the Friends of Southwest Public Libraries.

In June 2018, the Friends conducted a fundraiser to support this part of the expansion and raised $1,400. Southwest Public Libraries' leadership is grateful to the Friends of the Libraries for the organization's continued support.

This project has been a long time coming. We have to go back to 1991 for the last time the Westland Youth Services Department was expanded.

In August 2017, the Southwest Public Libraries' board of trustees approved an updated lease agreement with the library's landlord at the shopping center. The updated agreement secured the library's presence at the shopping center through 2036 while outlining plans for the expansion.

Construction began last summer. Unlike the Grove City Library project, we were not building a new library but adding on to an existing structure, which posed its own challenges. The library remained open during construction, despite the occasional noise and other inconveniences.

To the patrons and community partners who waited patiently during the process and supported the library, thank you. We could not have done it without you.

We will see you at the March 23 dedication.

Mark Dubovec is communications manager for Southwest Public Libraries. Contact him at mdubovec@swpl.org.