Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Building study issues in the press

Editorial reactions from selected writers on the Post Crescent's online forum, with some of my thoughts in response in italics:

I agree we are changing and the use of how one uses the library system is also changing.We have an explosive movement in the North. I would like to use OWLS and see if they can freely provide the same information that a $50,000 study will provide. We have the knowledge...Go north young readers.
This refers to how Appleton is growing to the north, with two fairly new high schools and some major annexation miles from the downtown. Northern considerations should be a major part of this study.

OWLS certainly has expertise, but not in building design or construction -- for that you need professional expertise, likely from an architect. That will allow service needs to be translated into building concepts with some associated cost projections. And while OWLS has the ability to do many things, they are already doing many things -- this is a major project and OWLS staff does not have lots of spare time on their hands.

Seems to me the librarians are getting short shrift in this deal in favor of fattening the pockets of outside consultants. Who would be more expert in the library's needs, a consultant or the people that run the library? As I see it it should be a fairly simple and straight forward proposition. Look at the needs of the library over all then look at the city's demographics to determine if the existing building should be added to or a new building elsewhere in town is needed. To me it looks like the city is just trying to avoid taking any responsibility for any decisions.
From this librarian's perspective, our librarians are not getting short shrift, they're asking for help. I would certainly expect that any consultants hired would be responsive to library staff and Board, so that our expertise will be taken into account.

But I disagree that the proposition is either simple or straightforward. Since this story broke in the press, I've had people tell me that it's obvious we should build branches, I've had people tell me it's obvious we should expand our current building, I've had people tell me it's obvious we should relocate to a new building with modern design, allowing us to build some new efficiencies into operations.

I know what I think, but that doesn't give me alternatives with costs. And it's the people of this community, through their input and representatives on the Library Board and Council -- maybe even through referendum -- who get to choose. What do you, the people, collectively want? What will you pay? Not simple questions at all.

All I know is that the library needs a bigger parking lot.
I can sure argue for that, but I've had other people tell me it's obvious the library needs a smaller parking lot so more people will use nearby parking ramps. Seriously. This issue alone could generate a long discussion.

Outsiders are brought for the following:

1. A knowledge of what other communities are doing.

2. The existing staff can have tunnel vision and not be aware of alternatives.

3. To minimize conflicts of interest. There are people in the community who would question large expenditures proposed by the staff.

There's no doubt that the staff could analyze the situation and propose changes but bringing in outsiders has the appearance of impartiality whether or not the impartiality actually exists.
I mostly agree -- one additional reason is particular expertise, such as civil engineering, architectural planning and cost-estimating. It's everybody's job to keep an eye on that impartiality thing, though outside consultants are less likely to have a local or hidden agenda. Not that my agenda is hidden, but it's sure possible I have tunnel vision. You could also argue that any proposal from staff is self-interested (like we would want the headaches this entails).

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