Sunday, October 28, 2007

Let the public discourse begin...

This is the text of an email sent to the Library staff, the day after the City Council Finance Committee reviewed the Mayor's budget for all departments, and the our local newspaper published an article featuring the request for a library building study
Notes on a Sunday morning...

I know, this should be a day of rest, but I had to go and read this morning's Post Crescent first thing ...

The headline on page 2 states, in impressively large type, "Library space study budgeted." True enough, but the reality is complex and political. We've been asking for a space study for three years. This year is the first time it's been in the Mayor's budget. And now it's in the Finance Committee's budget, on a 3-2 vote, and going to the full City Council for approval on November 14. At that point, it could be removed from the budget by a majority of the Council. Based on the split vote in committee, some of the other remarks from alderpersons, and the media attention, we can expect the issue to arise in deliberations.

The Post Crescent article was actually pretty good, though I don't believe I said that the library is literally bursting at the seems. We're not, although space is getting tight, and we know that the time from a study to any significant change will be measured in years. We also know:
  • we may have enough space for today, but not for long-term needs
  • several areas of the collection are already quite tight, despite increasingly aggressive weeding
  • shelving on top and bottom shelves alleviate some needs but is not ideal for accessibility of materials
  • growth in collections and technology has eaten into floor space and reading/study seating
  • Appleton is growing in size and population, with two high schools north of Highway 41, continued annexation and construction, especially to the northeast and southeast
  • more people from Appleton use libraries in our neighboring communities than vice versa, often citing convenient location and parking as reasons
  • our exit and entryway are not ideal for security: this makes it hard for Circulation staff to monitor and creates problems when groups use our meeting room before or after hours
  • our Young Adult area is very small -- smaller than Little Chute's and much smaller than libraries in Waupaca and LaCrosse, restricting our ability to attract and serve people at a critical age
  • for economy and expediency, our 1996 expansion ignored our 1994 building study's actual recommendations and built smaller than needed for future growth
I really have to disagree with Alderperson Jirschele's comment that this study would be premature because the library needs to first determine a philosophy of service. I think we've done that with our long range plan (on our website at, and we have given a copy of that plan to all of our City Council members. I'll be reminding Ald. Jirschele of that and trying to understand his concern. What we're looking at is not what kind of library service is needed, but what facilities options are best for delivering that service for Appleton in the coming years. Our current building is a response to existing needs in the 1990s, not future needs in the 21st century.

Assuming we get the study approved in the final budget, we will work with the Library Board and the City's Facilities Management Department to make it happen. Most likely this would mean creating a "Request for Proposals" to consulting firms who have experience in studying library building alternatives. Often this includes a team of a library services consultant and an architect. Until we actually get into a study, it's hard to anticipate every possible alternative, but major ones at this point involve:
  • doing nothing
  • remodeling and/or expanding our current building
  • relocating to a new building
  • adding branch(es), either though construction or storefront rental
  • developing a joint library with one or more neighboring municipalities
I think we're very fortunate that our Library Foundation has generously offered to contribute $10,000 to the cost of a study. We've also been talking with the Foundation about soliciting donations to help with any project that might happen. Because of community support, public libraries often are able to get significant contributions for building projects, and I hope this would ease the burden on Appleton taxpayers and help any future library projects go forward.

This will be interesting as we proceed. I hope that everyone on our staff has a sense of what we're doing and why, as I'm sure you'll all get questions. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me or refer people to me.

There were more budget issues, but I think the building study was the big one. Nobody from the Council even asked about the materials budget, so I hope that will be OK. More to come, I'm sure!

There's other stuff to talk about, but enough for now.

Library staff, APL users, etc. this is a good point to leave a comment here...


jdscott50 said...

This popped up on my feed before your post did. Interesting stuff! Long range planning is a plus, but I wonder if everyone is under the same scrutiny. It seems like you provided detailed information and comparisons on other libraries. It is tough when you plan for the future, and it continually gets pushed off so instead of a new building your expanding the existing one. Everyone needs to pay the piper at some point.

Terry Dawson said...

I can't say whether "everyone is under the same scrutiny" but I know that some are. Before taking our turn before the Finance Committee, I watched them scrutinize the Park & Rec Dept pretty thoroughly.

The other thing worth mentioning, contextually, is that our city has had several major capital projects in the past few years, and I think the Mayor was waiting for what he saw as the right time before putting this one on the table. But it's there now.