Friday, November 20, 2009

10 building project misconceptions

We have a Frequently Asked Questions section on our website addressing library facility issues, but maybe we should refine it with a Frequently Observed Misconceptions section. Here's a few of the things I seem to hear or notice:

  1. It's a done deal - Hardly! If it were, I'd have a lot less work to do. As of now, the City Council's Capital Facilities Committee is reviewing the situation and considering recommendations, but the City has made no decision. The amount of future dollars committed = zero. Are there a lot of people, including the Library Board, the Mayor, and me, who think that a new building is likely the best way to go for our community? Yep. Does that constitute a decision? Nope. A decision is a long way off, and any big changes are years away.

  2. It's a lost cause - Hardly! See above. The fact is that the Mayor and Council have chosen to delay further expenses for at least a year. But committees are still working to find the best path forward and make recommendations. We know our Friends are organizing to plan for some fund-raising, to be ready when the time comes. A delay by Council and a few letters to the editor by opponents does not end the discussion.

  3. It's all about space, so the cheaper space the better - no, it's all about providing library service to the community, as effectively and efficiently as possible for current and future needs. For sure, space is a big part of that, but efficiently designed spaces -- to make the most of our staff and volunteers, better security, better use of technology, and readily accessible low maintenance public meeting spaces -- are just important as square footage. A lot of the discussion in the past year was how to meet increasing service needs without increasing staff. Better design will be a big piece of that.

  4. Branches would be better - Not quite. Branches would be cheaper to construct, offer neighborhood services and the Holy Grail known as "free parking." But branches would be more expensive over the long run, due to duplicated buildings, equipment, staff functions, collections, data services, and the new cost of transporting items among multiple locations. I love branch libraries, but they're not a cost saver: the neighborhood service aspect has to be worth the additional costs they bring. And they do nothing to fix the flaws and inefficiencies of our current building, designed decades ago for 20th century concerns.

  5. You should move into the City Center (downtown mall) -- it's empty. No, it's not. There are a few empty storefronts, but the six floors of City Center West (the Prange building) are full, and the two floors of City Center East (the Gimbel's building) are pretty full. There's not enough room in the City Center for our overall operations, and splitting off any portion, such as meeting rooms, offices or technical services would add to operating inefficiencies and cost more in the long run. Splitting off the children's area or program space would divide families. Moving the whole operation into any other building not designed as a library is almost impossible from a safety engineering point of view. Book stacks are really heavy and require special construction to support them; even if the City Center were empty, it wouldn't make a good library building.

  6. You should just add a third floor to the current building - again from an engineering point of view this is not workable. The foundation footings would not take the weight of a third floor. This building was expandable -- to a limited extent, and we're close to those limits. Without expanding our footprint, we could only add 12,000 square feet -- an expensive band-aid, and five years later we'd be having the same conversation. I'd also be concerned about staffing a building with three stories and a lower level; it sounds more inefficient than what we've got.

  7. Electronic books/Google are making libraries obsolete - community wifi or computer labs would be better - This idea is characteristic of a limited, and flawed, conception of what public libraries are, and what this library is. The Internet, Google and electronic books have changed how we work, and will continue to do so. But libraries have been around for millenia and have evolved with society. We're not a book warehouse, not a computer lab. You can look up information online, but you can't replace our essential function by sitting at home with your computer. We're a community center, a place where people gather. Specifically, we're a community learning center. Paper books are not going away any time soon. Not everyone has a computer with high-speed Internet, and not everyone is proficient in using online resources. We're one of the busiest buildings in town and getting busier. Thousands attend our programs, bring their children, meet friends, ask for help, read, discuss, and learn. Libraries build community, change lives, and encourage the heart.

  8. You shouldn't tear down the current library - some folks seem concerned we're planning this, but no-one has ever suggested tearing down this building. If we don't expand on site, and if this building were not used for other City offices, it could be sold and put back on the tax rolls.

  9. You're planning to spend $40 or $50 million, and the taxpayers can't afford it - No, we're not, and I don't know. The rough estimate to build and furnish a new building would be $33 million or to remodel, $26 million. If the library were required to build its own parking structure as integral to the building, that would be an additional cost. We can assume that private funding will be needed to provide some percentage of the total cost; nationally 25% is pretty typical. And the City cannot tax any more than they normally would to build a library (unless citizens vote to do so in a referendum), so they would have to figure out how to finance it before we go ahead.

  10. With the economy so bad, this is no time to be planning a building - On the contrary, it's a pretty good time to plan, to have the philosophical discussions about what we want and how to do it. You don't have to tell us the economy is bad; our use has grown even faster during the recession. Better times are coming, and when we can afford to go ahead, we'd like to be ready.

Give a Child a Book

Reading to kids is vital. On the Washington Post site last week, there was a terrific column including some big points. Authoritatively:

the single best predictor of how a child will do over 12 years of school is: how much s/he was read to prior to the first day of first grade.

if we want to change America, we need to change how parents read to their children.

This reading requires two-way interaction--lots of talk. So the parents are pushing their children, and all they need to do is read aloud, with joy and talk. Doing this is like treasure and gold for a child’s life and with libraries, does not have to cost either.

Which is why our Friends' Give a Child a Book campaign, now in its 11th year, is important to the future of our community. The library encourages parents to read to kids, encourages kids to read on their own and gives them the means. Putting books directly into the hands of children who would not otherwise get them is a big step, and our Friends group works together with other local libraries to distribute books via the Salvation Army and the Boys & Girls Club.


New books or cash donations may be brought to the library through Dec. 12.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why we fight, part 2 -- words from our community

We've just completed our annual survey, and we seriously consider everything that people tell us -- including suggestions and criticisms as well as statistical totals. In a future posting, I'll address some of the specific suggestions and concerns, and some of the comments about our building.

But some of the statements people took extra time to write really hit home with me -- statements about what we're doing here, and why. The comments below speak for themselves:

  • No matter what age, you can benefit from the library material and opportunities it has to offer.
  • Libraries provide valuable services, especially in these hard economic times as not everyone has access to computers and Internet services.
  • It is one of the important responsibilities of government to provide free public libraries to citizens. It is the responsibility of citizens to provide the support necessary to maintain free public libraries.
  • At this time when the economy is poor, the library provides a needed service to the general public for the right price FREE. Not everyone can afford to purchase books, DVDs or CDs
  • Libraries are important so people can find a quiet place to work and learn. Books are a good imagination builder!
  • Libraries are the life-blood of the community. The public library is and has been my life line for my life experiences. Thank you for all of your work to make APL a place to learn. It is our Right as citizens to have a center that is easily accessible and is RICH of Life and Learning and Fun and Browsing. We, as a Community, are only as good as our Library.
  • Without libraries I don't believe that we could call ourselves a civilization.
  • I am so grateful for the services our library provides - especially now that I am a grandmother!
  • As a teacher, the library is one of my best resources. It also saves me time and money.
  • It's where the poor and lowly can go as well as anyone else.
  • With city, county, state and national parks, free public libraries are the jewels of the republic.
  • I believe the public libraries and public schools are the things that set this country apart!
  • Many people cannot afford Internet access. This evens the playing field, especially for students.
  • Anyone can use the library, rich or poor.
  • A high quality public library is essential to a well educated, informed public. It feeds our nation's youth. It serves all people in our country, not just the ones who can afford it. Andrew Carnegie's vision should be followed. Without free and open access to knowledge, our society is doomed.
  • They are very essential for me as they serve a great part of my social, entertainment needs. I have lived in other states and cities and always considered libraries to be essential.
  • If we didn't have this in our library the community would be far behind in dark ages -- thanks for public library
  • They should remain free & public, welcoming to everyone. The public library is extremely important to the quality of a community.

Why we fight, part 1 -- stories from the state conference

As I'm waiting for tonight's public hearing on the annual city budget, I'm remembering the state library conference held here in Appleton a couple of weeks ago. It was a good conference, with some excellent speakers and programs, opportunities to share with colleagues, and vendor products to review. But I keep thinking about two stories I heard, stories that highlight the importance of what we're doing.

The first was at the awards banquet, where Lynda Barry accepted the RR Donnelley Literary Award, given for the highest literary achievement by a Wisconsin author in 2009, for her book What It Is. She talked about problems in her home life when she was young, and how she regarded school teachers and public librarians as fulfilling parental roles and the public library becoming a home. She told how the public library, as a safe place that welcomed her, offered encouragement and opportunities to learn, had been essential for her.

The second story was told by the staff and library board members of the West Bend Public Library, which this year dealt with some difficult materials challenges -- challenges which had divided the community as the challengers sought to try the case in the media and in blogs rather than before the library board.
The challenges had started with young adult materials, particularly a few titles addressing gay and lesbian issues for teens. When the situation finally came before the board, the public comments were recorded on video, and this video was shared at the conference.

Among the many passionate statements pro and con, there were two that resonated powerfully with me. One was a professor from UW-M who reminded listeners that the Library Bill of Rights was originally developed in our country in response to Nazi book-burning. The Nazis actively worked to make public libraries into institutions of propaganda, communicating only party-sanctioned values. The second speak was a mom with two grown sons, one of whom had grown up suffering discrimination, bullying and uncertainty as a gay teen. She said it would have meant the world to him to simply have access to a novel with characters who were like him and dealing with his issues.

This is why we fight for our public libraries. We need a place for everyone -- a safe, intellectually and culturally nourishing center of our community, a place for opportunities to learn and grow, where people and ideas are welcome. Thanks to Lynda Barry and the West Bend Public Library for reminding us.