Earlier this year and throughout the months of library closure, I was busy consulting with ReThinking Libraries to review the building and space needs. As a result, we now have recommendations that will insure the future success of the library. Rob Cullin, principal at ReThinking Libraries, visited the library to meet with the staff and trustees, and to get a sense of the library space. He also collected and analyzed usage data and local demographic detail.
In assessing the space needs at HML, ReThinking Libraries used three different approaches. First, they looked at the library’s square footage on a per capita basis based on their years of experience in other public libraries. They find that good to above-average public libraries range between 0.9 and 1.4 square feet per capita. In this approach, HML should ideally be 12,500-19,500 square feet. And that’s based on our chartered service area which is much smaller than the area we actually serve.
A second approach benchmarked HML with 25 other libraries ranging in population from 10,000 to 17,500 and with operating budgets between $500,000 to $1,100,000. This cohort of libraries had an average of 0.86 square feet per capita and a median of 0.87 square feet per capita. Using this comparison, HML should be approximately 12,000 square feet.
The third approach examined each area of the library’s program and collection space. Using this approach, HML should be between 16,225 to 17,499 square feet. It’s obvious that the library is too small but these statistics confirm what everyone who works here has always known.
In the annual report to New York State, HML is listed as having 15,000 square feet of space. Unfortunately, we have to include the basement and the attic because these areas are used for storage, but are not accessible to the public. What we actually have is less than 8,000 square feet so any way you assess space needs, this library is woefully undersized.
Besides size limitations, there are other issues in the library. There isn’t much space for adults to sit with the children in areas designated for them. Meeting rooms are used often, but have an echo that should be reduced with acoustic tiles. There is no dedicated space for tutors so they have to use the tables and try not to disrupt other patrons. There is a severe lack of power throughout the building. It’s difficult to navigate through the collection and browsing the shelves in the hallway is especially awkward.
National trends in public libraries indicate that physical books are not going away. Usage is changing though especially in the nonfiction section since so many resources are easy to find online. Libraries are leading in literacy education of all kinds including technology and financial literacy. There is a national focus on lifelong learning.
What can we do about these facility limitations? Rob Cullin states that we need a minimum of 12,500 square feet and that 15,000 would be ideal. While the Library Board is still reviewing possibilities, it seems that the most cost effective solution would be to establish a satellite space. It’s still early, but my vision is to see our Makerspace actually have space. Our digital literacy program has a strong educational leader but we need more room. Would the new Artist Loft have space for a vibrant community room? Is there unoccupied space somewhere with easy access? Didn’t the DRI indicate that there’s a need for a Makerspace downtown? What better partner to turn to than the local library.
Library Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.
Tina Winstead is director of Huntington Memorial Library in Oneonta. Her column appears in the community section of The Daily Star every Tuesday. Her columns may also be found online at www.thedailystar.com/community/library_corner.