Library Information

Why So Big?

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Anyone who spends time at the library recognizes the need for more space.

In 2007, the library engaged Page + Morris, a library planning firm, to conduct a needs assessment. Page + Morris is a very experienced San Francisco-based firm that has prepared over one hundred library planning projects and been responsible for the interior design of more than ten major libraries. 

That study identified “significant functional deficits” and recommended a library totaling 30,999 square feet to adequately address the needs of our communities. Subsequent planning, recognition of site limitations, and public comment caused the design to eventually be reduced to a total of 26,225 square feet. (Further details on the study, as well as an update conducted in August of last year, are available on the library web site.)

Yet, even this reduced size is still a very substantial expansion. Here are the reasons for it.

1. An independent library rather than a branch library
Our library was designed to be a branch of the Marin County Free Library System. Most library administrative functions such as new book processing and cataloging were to be done off-site. However, at the eleventh hour, the founders of the new library realized that it would be much more economical for the library to operate independently rather than to pay the assessment to the County. Mill Valley and Sausalito had reached the same conclusion.

This has proved to be a prudent economic decision and undoubtedly contributed to the enormous popularity of the new library. But the design provided no space to accommodate the extra staff and activities that an independent library required. Because of this change in direction, the library was already too small when it opened in 1997.

2. A library for more than just adults
Back in the early 90s, the number of school-age children living in our communities was in decline. This was likely a factor in the design of our current building as an adult library. But, beginning around 2006, this trend dramatically reversed.

Now our schools are overflowing and expanding. Enrollment in theReed School District has increased from 1,031 in 2005/6 to 1,403 for the past school year. That’s an increase of 30%. School District projections are for continued growth in enrollments for the foreseeable future. As a result of this growth, services for young people from toddlers to young adults are among the most popular services that we provide. The existing library has very limited space for these services.

3. A bigger collection and more room to sit
Our library had more than 175,000 visits during the last fiscal year. Most days find our computers in use, every available seat taken, and young people sitting on the floors. We especially lack space for individuals and study groups.

In 1996, the year before our library was built, total circulation was about 85,500 items. The following year, with little change in population but a new library, circulation jumped 64% to about 132,000. Current circulation has climbed past 315,000. With the extra space, added facilities, and much more welcoming environment, the new library will likewise attract much higher use.

4. Expanded community programs
Last year, our library was home to 811 community events. These included book discussions, art exhibits, and lectures by authors, museum docents, political commentators, world travelers, and local adventurers. Our biannual week-long series on issues for seniors is extremely popular. These events are entirely organized and staffed by volunteers at no cost to the library or taxpayers. All that is needed is the room to have them.

Our space limitations have caused us to max out on the number and diversity of the programs that we can offer. The expansion adds a larger meeting room for popular programs and the ability to offer multiple events at the same time.

5. Exploding demand for technology services
Today, patrons log on to our 18 community computers more than 34,000 times each year. Nine of these computers are in the adult section, four in the children’s section, and five are dedicated to browsing our catalog. The expansion provides space for 59 computers. Seventeen will be dedicated to a new training facility; the rest will be located throughout the library. It’s a critical technology update to our library and reflects how training, reading, and research will increasingly be done in the future.

Patrons now come to our Library to try out electronic media in our eReader “Petting Zoo.” They can try a Kindle, a Nook, and an iPad, each pre-loaded with a selection of books. This helps them decide whether they like this form of reading, and helps them make a more-informed buying decision.

Our weekly technology classes, taught mostly by staff, are always oversubscribed. We can only offer these classes one day per week because of a lack of space. The expansion permits a dedicated technology center for training every day and throughout the day.

The new library will provide an opportunity to learn about and use technology tools that are more elaborate than what most individuals could have for themselves. One example is a multimedia lab with dedicated software and hardware for creating films, music, photo editing, and other forms of multimedia. We hope to provide exciting platforms for creative types of all ages, whether for education, entertainment, or to support a mid-career change. Technology will constantly change. What won’t change is the need for a place to learn about new ways of doing things and for help in the discovery.

6. Consolidate functions performed offsite
Corner Books is our used bookstore operated by volunteers from the Library Foundation. Now open for two years, it has been a resounding success and is a significant contributor of funds to our library. The proposed expansion creates a larger space for Corner Books and moves it onsite from its current location at the Boardwalk Shopping Center. In addition to streamlining the operation of the bookstore, higher sales will result due to foot traffic at the library being many times higher than at its current location.

The new expansion also provides space for the Library Foundation. In addition to the convenience, consolidation of both uses at the library eliminates the rent expense now being paid.

By the Numbers

It’s complicated for most of us to read floor plans and get a sense of how the extra space is actually being used. Here’s an approximate comparison between our existing library and the approved expansion. Please keep in mind that these are just estimates.

The project adds 15725 square feet to the existing library’s 10,500. A surprising amount of the additional space is lost to common areas like hallways, restrooms, stairs and elevators, and the thickness of walls. After subtracting out these common areas, the increase in useable space is 10,944 square feet.

Here’s roughly how the added space is split among the six needs that we just described, as well as the common areas.

        Category Current Size New Library Space Added
Common Areas
Independent Library Operation
Children & Teens
Bigger Collection & More Room
Community Programs
Technology Access & Learning
Corner Books & Coffee Cart
       Total (in square feet)

Why Technology Won’t Replace Libraries

While Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and Apple’s iPad are transforming our reading experiences, there are many reasons why physical books and libraries will remain relevant and vital.

All of us would love to envision a future where we can get any book we want in electronic form from the library for free. But there are very formidable barriers that are likely to prevent that from happening in the foreseeable future.

First, eReaders and electronic books are expensive. Electronic versions of most books are priced between the paperback and hardback prices. While many in our affluent communities can afford these purchases, a great number cannot. Getting books for free at the library is still the best deal in town. 

Since electronic purchases can’t generally be loaned to others or donated, many consider them wasteful. And many publishers refuse to sell digital versions of their books to libraries or impose painful conditions on their use. Wherever possible, the library acquires digital books for use by our patrons.

How We Compare

The Mill Valley Library is probably the most direct comparison in both geography and makeup of the population. The Mill Valley Library serves a population about 25% larger than does our library, and they have about 17% more card holders.

They expanded their library in 1998 to its present size of 27,000 square feet. Our current library serves about the same size population with a library that is little more than one-third Mill Valley’s size. We are planning to expand to 26,225 square feet, slightly smaller than the Mill Valley library, fourteen years after they did. Mill Valley’s circulation and number of annual visitors are larger than ours, precisely because they have the room to accommodate them. This supports the position that a larger library will be considerably more valuable to our town and will attract significantly more use.

In the East Bay, the town of Lafayette has a new library of more than 30,000 square feet. It houses a community hall that seats 160 people, a technology center, a used bookstore, foundation offices, and a Café serving food and beverages. It provides dedicated children and teen centers, outdoor meeting and reading areas, and a fully automated drive-through book return. Their old library was 6,720 square feet.

Our projected new library is not unusually big for the community it serves; our existing library is unusually small.

In Conclusion

Over the last eight years, the various Library Agency Boards considered many factors leading to the present proposal. One factor was particularly important in addition to those previously discussed: this expansion is likely to be the last one for a very long time – most likely many decades. We have a responsibility to ensure that any expansion is sufficient to meet not only the present needs of our communities but also well into the future. The new library expansion plan does exactly that.