Sunday, April 19, 2009

Book Festival wraps up

Elizabeth Berg, who was the last program of this year's Fox Cities Book Festival, is finishing up in our program area. She drew a crowd of 183 people and we had to scramble to set up additional chairs. A whole bunch of volunteers and Book Festival Board members quickly materialized to help get the chairs out.

That's just the way the whole thing has been -- all sorts of people, from all over the Fox Cities, pitching in together to promote authors, books and reading. It'll be awhile before all the heads are counted and all the evaluations are read, but I'd say it was a howling success. Our library had almost 1,100 people attending programs over the past four days. Michael Perry, our community read author, drew about 1,500 people speaking at every public library in the Fox Cities, plus the UW-Fox campus and in concert at the Performing Arts Center. Our National Library Week door count was 1,868 people a day coming to our building.

But numbers hardly tell the story. The real news was in all the conversations that sprang up, all the connections that developed, all the people exposed to authors and ideas they didn't know before. You get a lot of laughs hearing Sherman Alexie describe his appearance on the Colbert Report, or watching Nikola-Lisa wearing shades, playing the blues harp and doing a rap version of "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" -- and then you can talk to people about it.

It took a lot of work, a lot of donations and a lot of hours of volunteer time by a lot of people. Every public library, and a lot of the school and university libraries, in the Fox Cities has been involved, along with many other community-minded folks who work for the joys of books, readers and writers. I'm betting we'll do it again!

photo: Michael Perry @ APL. Photo by Michael Kenney

Friday, April 17, 2009

Library Building Program Design Study

He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.
Francis Bacon

We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.
Pogo (Walt Kelly)
Things change. And in the 30 years since our current library was designed, library service has changed a lot. We're in the second year of studying our facility needs. Both year's studies were funded as part of our City capital budget, but with substantial dollars from our Library Foundation under-writing the cost.

Our building study done in 2008 featured lots of community input: surveys, small groups, interviews with community leaders, and public town hall meetings. Altogether about 1,000 community members provided input. The conclusion was that our library needs more space and better functionality, including:
  • More room for materials
  • More room for public seating
  • More meeting room spaces -- easier to set up and maintain and more readily accessible
  • Improved security, including a better designed controlled exit and Radio Frequency ID for materials
  • Technology, including more self-checks and an automated materials handling system to manage workloads
  • Explore a drive-up window and cafe.
  • 21st century services - spaces and connections designed for computers, more computers, shared work spaces, and learning labs
The study concluded that library service needs of this community would be best served by an new building or a major expansion of this building. We're proceeding with caution, particularly in the current economic climate, and don't expect that this would occur for years, but we still need to plan.

This year, we're looking at program design. Thinking about the future of our library, this process will help us define the puzzle pieces, look at assembling them into different pictures, and present alternative building layouts to the Mayor, Library Board, and City Council. We can look at the pros & cons, the cost & value of different models.

In this year's process:
  • We sent out Request for Proposals to:
    • Define an architectural program to meet service needs
    • Develop two conceptual designs: new building, and remodel/expand
  • Fourteen proposals were received
  • Three architectural firms were interviewed
  • Engberg Anderson & George Lawson were hired
  • Engberg Anderson library projects include:
    • Shorewood
    • Two Rivers
    • Cudahy
    • Beloit
    • Brown County – Weyers Hilliard Branch
    • 1994 APL study & preliminary design
The timeline for this year's study:
  • Tour, identify issues, begin worksheets 4/7
  • Complete worksheets 4/8-19
  • Staff interviews & data refinement 4/20-22
  • Review draft program with Library Board Building Committee 5/8
  • Meet with Mayor & City stakeholders 5/11
  • Draft concepts workshop 5/18
  • Concept approval 6/1
  • Present to Library Board & City Council 6/16 &17
And then there are political decisions to be made.
  • Library Building Committee and Board will probably make a recommendation
  • Mayor decides what to put in the Executive Budget
  • Budget approval is up to the City Council – they approve long range capital plans, as well as appropriation for next year
  • Marketing – sharing the story – will be a job for the whole library staff and supporters
  • Any political effort to create community discussion will need leadership from our Friends' group
  • Any project is likely to require significant private dollars. Fundraising through a capital campaign, led by our Library Foundation, will be important – and could start later this year
  • A referendum is a possible way for the community to make a decision, though not it would not be my preference, as it would be expensive in its own right
A final thought, as we move (carefully) forward:
The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
Alan Kay

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Library issues & the state budget hearing

The Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin Legislature is holding one of their regional budget hearings in Appleton today. There was a huge turnout at Lawrence University. I felt I needed to testify in support of public libraries.

Libraries are reasonably well-served in the budget: if we're getting less of what we asked for, we're getting a great deal of what we need. We're feeling the squeeze of significant increases in use and flat or decreasing funding. The Governor has done right to support library systems, which in turn support local libraries. To do this, he has moved more of state funding for library services off the income tax and is funding it via the Universal Service Fund, which comes from a surcharge on phone bills. This plan was attacked by our State Senator, Mike Ellis, so I felt some need to defend it. You can read a copy of Sen. Ellis's critique and my response on the FoxPolitics blog.

Here's my written testimony as submitted to the Committee:
Members of the Joint Finance Committee:

My name is Terry Dawson. I serve as the Director of the Appleton Public Library, and am a member and Past President of the Wisconsin Library Association.

I support the 2009-2011 budget bill, as introduced by the Joint Finance Committee, which provides a Universal Service Fund appropriation to fund specific library services: BadgerLink, Public Library System Aids, the Statewide Resource-Sharing Contracts, and Newsline for the Blind.

The original act that established the Universal Service Fund, 1993 Wisconsin Act 496, states that the fund shall give priority to: "local units of government, educational institutions and libraries". To that end, I served as a public library representative, appointed by Governor Thompson, on the Universal Service Fund Council, advising the PSC on fund disbursement, for two terms, beginning in 1994.

In recent years, library systems have become increasingly focused on and built around telecommunications-based services to local communities; technology has evolved systems into networks. Thus state support coming from the Universal Service Fund, as opposed to income tax, makes good sense, is consistent with the purpose of the Universal Service Fund, and makes it possible to sustain critically important library services.

During these difficult economic times, library use has increased dramatically, and use of telecommunications services provided through libraries has been even more dramatic, as we provide increased support for job seekers and those who have lost access to other resources. At our library alone, users logged 12,899 hours on public computers in the first two months of 2009, a 60% increase from the previous year. These computers access the Internet over connections provided through our library system. Systems are provide open access and communications services -- effectively promoting collaboration to level the playing field, and create opportunities for all Wisconsin residents.

The Appleton Public Library has over 84,000 library card holders, and more than 1,600 people per day come through our doors. Every item checked out, every web page viewed, every database search, every use of the catalog – these are all made possible through services provided by the Outagamie Waupaca Library System, funded through this budget. Vital access to information and materials occurs through BadgerLink, Resource-sharing and Newsline.

I urge you to use this budget, as introduced, to help sustain our library and all of Wisconsin’s public libraries as we work to create equal opportunities for your constituents to learn and enrich their lives.

Thank you.