Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come

Over the next four months, our library will be doing a facility study. We received a $10,000 grant from the Appleton Library Foundation for this purpose, and $40,000 in our 2008 City budget. The study will look at library facility needs of the community in the short and long term.

In December, we sent out nearly fifty copies of an RFP (request for proposals) to building consultants and architects with significant library experience. We received ten proposals in response, and our evaluation team reviewed these, interviewed two firms and made a recommendation to our Library Board. On February 18, the Board resolved to go with Durrant as our partner to do the study.

Durrant, which is the firm that designed our 1996 addition, will work with Himmel & Wilson Library Consultants for library & community input and Linda Miller as technology consultant. There will be staff focus groups, community focus groups, surveys, interviews with library staff and community leaders, and lots of meetings. There should be many opportunities for a variety of input: we want lots of ideas to be included, heard and weighed.

In this process there are no foregone conclusions, except that we want to find the best way to meet the community’s future library service needs. Do we know that it's a good idea for the public library to be near the center of downtown? Do we know that it would cost more to operate additional facilities, such as branches, than it would to expand on our current site? We surely do know these things.

But that doesn't tell us what's best for the long-term library service delivery in this community. What is the added value that a different location or additional locations offer our service population? What operational economies might there be in a building designed for twenty-first century technology and use patterns? What organizations or neighboring communities might wish to partner with us in providing library spaces? What are the opportunities and needs for change in our current building, designed almost thirty years ago? We have to take an open-minded, unprejudiced look at the questions and issues. We have to consider lots of factors and ask lots of people, then present some clear choices and recommendations to the decision-makers: the Library Board, Mayor and Council.

If we knew the answers ahead of time, we wouldn't need to do a study. But we need to look at options and make some decisions about the future. We need to know we can deliver the services people want in the most effective way. And we need to understand technology options and costs, as well as how we might implement short-term solutions before long-term actions are taken.

Winston Churchill said: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” What shape do you want our library to be in over the next decades? This will be a lot of work, but worthwhile and exciting!

[podcast version of this post]

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