Saturday, April 19, 2008

What do I want? part 3 - benchmarks & conclusions

Appleton's first public library: reading room above Pardee's Grocery, 1887

So what do we look for in library buildings? As a reference point, there's a great list published by the Project for Public Spaces, titled "How to Make Your Library Great: 14 lessons from local libraries all over the continent." The details are worth a look, but in summary, great libraries:

1. Offer a Broad Mix of Community Services
2. Foster Communication
3. Showcase History and Information
4. Build Capacity for Local Businesses
5. Become Public Gathering Places
6. Boost Local Retail and Public Markets
7. Offer Easy Access
8. Make the Surrounding Area Come Alive
9. Feature Multiple Attractions and Destinations
10. Are Designed to Support Function
11. Provide a Variety of Amenities
12. Change with the Calendar
13. Depend on Wise Management
14. Catalyze Community Revitalization

Yeah, I know, I'm working on the wise management thing, among others. But a lot of the things on this list speak directly to facilities, and how facilities shape services and use. In some ways, I think it might be easier to make needed transformations, and fire up people's imaginations to get donor funding, with a new facility. But that depends on what the community wants.

But finally, I'll come back to my initial point. I may have a lot of experience in libraries, but what we need to do here is not to develop a facility plan that meets my philosophy, but one that meets the community's service needs for the foreseeable future. The library's long range plan gives us a start, but we need to look further out.

The foreseeable future part gets tricky, because we don't have a crystal ball, but I believe that we missed a bet when we made our last decision in 1994. We got a nice addition, completed 1995-97. But in making the decision to do that project, we opted to do the expedient thing rather than address long term needs.

It's one thing to have a serious plan to do things in phases, and quite another to say "Let's do a little bit now, then we can do more later. We'll do something, sometime. When we can see the clear need. When we can afford it."

That sort of indefinite future is too easy to indefinitely delay, and then you're back at the drawing board, which is where we find ourselves. This time, let's think long term, create a good plan, and then work patiently to make it happen.