In forums, space issues top list of concerns voiced about library

Sean C. Morgan

“Space,” said Sweet Home resident John Neely. “Space. Space. Space. Space.”

Sweet Home Public Library needs more space, said Neely and three other members of the public who attended a public forum Aug. 28 to talk about what is needed at the library.

Representatives of FFA Architecture and Interiors held three public forums last week to provide information and to collect public input for a needs assessment to help address growing usage. The firm also will create conceptual drawings for the library.

The library moved from 1,200 square feet of the City Hall basement to its present location, with 5,825 square feet, at the intersection of 13th and Kalmia streets, in 1969.

“Since 1969, the demand for library service, (including) circulation, programs, meeting space and public computer use, has grown steadily, outpacing the library’s ability to provide services from a physical standpoint,” said Library Director Rose Peda earlier this year when the council approved the assessment. The existing building’s capacity is no longer adequate. There is a need to transform the library’s interior and exterior.”

In the request for proposals, Peda outlined what the city is looking for, including a dedicated children’s play area, a young adult area, study rooms and remodeling to reflect modern electrical needs and modern energy efficiency, a face lift for the front exterior, removal of the stairs in favor of a ramp and a remodel of the foyer.

Libraries have changed and will continue to change, said Brenda Katz of FFA. The consultants want to address current national trends while preparing for future trends.

Libraries serve as a third place – as opposed to home and work or home and school – for people to be part of their community, she said. They have a need for more space, meeting space, space for collaboration among groups and “a great place to come hang out.”

They’re no longer places just to get information, said Penny Hummel of FFA. They’re places where people connect with each other.

In some cases, that drives a need for after-hours access, Katz said. Often, the public needs meeting space and restrooms off the lobby so meetings aren’t dependent on library staff to keep it open.

“Libraries are following more of a retail or hospitality model,” she said. They’re like marketplaces with attractive seating, sometimes with coffee shops and retail shelves stocked by “Friends of the Library” groups.

They need to be flexible and adaptable, with furniture and shelving on casters so they can be moved around, Katz said.

Twenty years ago, libraries built big desks for computers, Hummel said. Now, people bring their own devices.

Seeing how technology has changed the business, libraries need to be flexible “for things coming in the future and we don’t even know what they are,” Hummel said.

Among trends are more access to technology and virtual reality, Katz said.

“To do that, (libraries) really need to have the infrastructure and capacity to support those activities.”

Patrons need to have access points to plug in their devices, computers and chargers, Katz said.

They also have evolving points of service, she said. It’s uncommon for staff to stand behind large desks now. Often they’ll use small stations throughout a library.

“A lot of librarians want to be out in the library, where people need them,” Katz said. They’re more mobile, and libraries are turning to self-checkout and return, with automated material handling and sorting.

Libraries have more active learning and creation spaces, she said. They include maker spaces and sometimes even recording studios, allowing patrons to be creative and to collaborate with each other.

They’ve changed from “grocery stores” to “kitchens” where people are creating, Hummel said.

Libraries are focusing on “inclusiveness, wellness and sustainability,” Katz said. FFA likes to design beyond the standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to make the whole library accessible. Large windows allowing a lot of daylight in help with wellness; and wise use of resources and durable materials help make the building sustainable.

Large windows make it more inviting to people outside the library and helps create a deeper connection to the community, Hummel said.

Libraries are also making more partnerships with different institutions and organizations to share space, Katz said, ranging from a jobs resource center or community center to youth organizations and health organizations, because libraries are great ways to spread knowledge.

Katz and Hummel took comments from members of the public, what works at the library right now.

Participants said the library has a family feel, and it’s safe, a place where parents can bring children, who will have fun and learn something. It has a wide variety of programming, a competent, friendly staff, proximity to children and seniors and a director who has done a wonderful job, providing more activities than ever. It also works well with other organizations, like the Boys and Girls Club.

Asked what they would change, members of the public said they would make it bigger. It doesn’t have enough room for the Summer Reading Program, story time or even the ukulele group. It needs more space that’s bright and vibrant for teens, a place for studying with electrical access, more computers and better access where the front steps are.

“We need a larger space where we can have more books,” Neely said.

Hummel said that a survey will remain available a little longer, and the library has a poster board in the lobby where patrons can post comments. The survey is available at http://www.sweet-home.or.us/library/page/library-facility-improvement-survey.

Going forward, the FFA team will develop three different scenarios, based on statistics and comments, with the library expanding, replacing the building and moving to a new site. The process will include evaluation by engineers, who will see what it would take to bring the building up to modern codes.

For more information about the process, call the library at (541) 367-5007.

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