Citizen letter on library

Here is a note from constituent Paula Hardin. I appreciate her thoughts and wished to share. There are a few suggestions that I disagree with, but many more with which I concur. I am sharing with her permission.


As you know, the library is central to my life, even if I was not disabled due to multiple sclerosis, libraries and books have been a constant in my life. I have used ALL the library iterations in Rochester ever since I was a toddler. I can say with certainty that it made me a better person and enriched my life in so many ways that I scarcely know how to describe it.

It was actually a surprise to that it took me until 1983 to figure out I could and should go to graduate school to get my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. Among the several areas of special studies, my classes included archival management, thesaurus construction, and  I also completed the entire separate Museum Studies program, law librarianship (I think the first non-lawyer allowed to do so), and project management from the Business School.
I have lived and travelled all over the country (all but 3 states) and been a dedicated patron of libraries everywhere I lived. I have been a library tourist, visiting libraries around the world. In what is apparently a really hard thing to do even with advanced notice and preferring of credentials, I was allowed in to the famous Bodelian library and I touched books that existed in 1500 and before; it was a spiritual experience for me.
Additionally, architecture has been a hobby of mine, and library history an area of special study (I was going to write a book).
My application of my library studies has been non-traditional. One of my areas of national expertise was on developing and designing digital libraries. Before my multiple sclerosis worsened, I took PhD classes with plans to attend the program to study user interface design. Since I know art as an art major and was a graphic designer for many years, combined with my computer and database expertise, it was a goal I was very sad to have to give up because of my health.
Now that I have some of my credentials covered to establish my expertise on all things library, this is what my recent research and attendance at library board meetings has led to reassess my support for library expansion downtown and say with absolute certainty that the best choice is BUILD A NEW LIBRARY.
I wish my health situation would have let me serve on the Library Board because I think I would have been perfect for the post. However, since they do have public comment, I have taken advantage of that to share my research and make suggestions. I have also written directly to Audrey in her capacity as library director about a number of things, and she recently proposed (3-15) one of my ideas I had written her about to the board (without acknowledging my contribution) that was met with great enthusiasm.
I have asked for but not received any copies or links to the $40,000 plus study that was originally done about 5 years ago or more that concluded that EXPANSION was the best alternative. As you may recall, I have been a supporter of expansion.
I have changed my mind and even have come to question the validity of the original research and definitely their conclusion! I realized this when I spoke to some other members of the community, random people who were attending my American Sign Language class.
They were very bitter about the 125 LIVE debacle (including scorn for the name which I think is the widespread opinion of it). Admittedly, most of the arguments made by one woman in particular were, let’s call it not progressive, though she adamantly voiced support for the public library — just had reservations about the many millions of dollars and other factors that indicated she was not a user of the library since she did not know basic functions available.
What happened when I spoke to her, though, was a sudden awareness that my coming late to the party (due to caregiving for my late mother) meant I had been thinking of the library EXPANSION as if were vetted to be the optimal solution (branches discussion notwithstanding and not worthy of even being discussed as viable to anyone with a clue).
So I reassessed the reason why so much effort has gone into the obsession with expanding an atrociously awful, outdated, and actually wretched location for a public library.
The #1 thing that struck me was the prioritization of people dependent on transit to be able to get to the library. As the non-progressive lady pointed out, “Who do you serve?” The absolute truth is that the majority of the library users are NOT transit dependent and use cars for very good reasons.
For one thing, transit is never going to be free, and never going to be cheap even if subsidized, and is that the best use of money to serve a tiny percentage of users or potential users? If a mom with 3 kids wants to go to the library, that is 4 bus fares in two directions, and possibly requires a transfer and even a short walk. Even if each fare were only $1.00, that costs the family $8.00 to make that visit and a realistic estimate of 1 HOUR to get from home to bus stop to downtown to library.
What I do not understand, although I suspect the answer is the liberal obsession with serving the disadvantaged over the 99% of main users of the library. I am NOT advocating EXCLUDING the disadvantaged. I am saying do something else to serve that population that might be better, cheaper, and more efficient.
Like BOOKMOBILES with hotspots and a computer for users without computers or internet (although there is an app for cell phones which many people however poor HAVE TO HAVE to function in contemporary society Jason Chaffetz’s baseless opinion to the contrary.
I have made that suggestion based on a librarian’s suggestion in the video online during the 2016 Post Bulletin public discussion on the project. She pointed out that the Bookmobile was, essentially, a BRANCH library. So my idea immediately became, what we need instead of branches (that still would require $$$$ transit with all of the time and hassle I mentioned before), we could add one or two bookmobiles.
I sent Audrey some links to new, energy efficient, bookmobiles. She is busy doing her job and more with the school thing going on and so much else. She doesn’t have time to research and there is no money, and given the inadequacy of the previous OVERPRICED “research” study, there is no money to do it over by someone with a clue. But I have a vested interest in the future of the library and I have the time. And I have a clue.
In the video, a very astute lady in the audience made some very thoughtful and pointed remarks questioning some of the unspoken assumptions that led to the expansion as the best option.
I have heard Audrey say many times, as if it were factual, that since a new library would cost the same as the expansion, “it is a wash” therefore she concludes we may as well do the expansion. Sometimes she mentions land cost. There is a phrase for the fundamental problem this belief causes, something like “opportunity cost” meaning that things you could do with a new building warrant consideration and higher weighting.
No disrespect to Audrey in  ANY OF THIS. She is doing a great job. The library is understaffed, heavily used, and is badly designed. It also serves as a day time homeless shelter which has been a problem of public libraries since at least the 80s. But that’s another problem requiring a solution.
The cost basis of new versus expansion is falsely framed as the ONLY difference between the two when that is so obviously false that I am astonished that it even took me awhile to question that assumption.
With a new library, you get NEW from scratch facilities that will last 20 years instead of a patchwork throwing good money after bad.
New HVAC with all the energy star bells and whistles and new ductwork, local control of air flow and temperatures in meeting rooms, that could perhaps make it possible for me to actually attend a meeting in a conference room there again without nearly having a fatal asthma attack from the lack of fresh air that could filter out heavy scented perfume odors with the door closed.
It could be a GREEN building, like the Vancouver (B.C. Canada) Public library. It could use locally sourced materials. It could be DESIGNED by someone competent beyond the dozens of AUTOCAD 101 buildings that exist in town.
I could go on and on with dozens more aspects that do not seem to have been even considered since the choice was to push expansion.
As you know, there is inadequate dedicated handicapped parking already. People are constantly having to double park to pick up kids, or as has happened to me at least 5 times in the last two months, they sit in the handicapped spots to wait thinking, hey, I’m just going to be here for a little bit, what are the odds someone handicapped will need this space. I have gotten out of my double parked car to ask someone to move their vehicle several times, and let it go many more.
The space in front of the disabled spots is inadequately painted and just big enough for a good parallel parker to park there, no doubt planning to offer the “oh I didn’t realize it wasn’t a parking place” excuse if busted. I get a ticket for 10 minutes over the 30-minute meter but never once have I seen the NO PARKING space (not that there is a sign) in front of the handicapped space with a ticket. And the people who park there frequently do stay more than a few minutes to just pick up books.
Another woman I spoke to at the ASL class said she went there to do genealogy because they have a subscription to and she needs to spend hours there. Well, that means she has to park in the ramps because the meters are 30-minute and 2-hour across the street — leading to constant jaywalking of course, a public safety hazard. This means the public library is not really “free”  — and as I pointed out to the Board members who obviously never gave it a moment’s thought: library employees have to park in the lot at a significant cost of over an estimated $1,000 a year for the privilege of working there.
I could go more on this, but let’s be realistic: FREE PARKING incorporated under a new library building or a paved lot, or both would enable many more people to use the library without it costing them a day’s budget for food to park there.
Taking two toddlers and a baby on the bus is never going to be cheap compared to a car. Parking in the garage and dragging the two kids out and making sure they don’t get hit by a car coming in to park while getting a baby out of a car seat and into a stroller, and then going through doors and possibly an elevator ride to get to the skyway, which has a non ADA slope to travel the 1/4 mile (I measured) to the ELEVATOR to go down to the door of the library, and all that just to PICK UP SOME CHILDREN’S BOOKS, and repeat the journey back to the car must surely be an ordeal to much to consider. They might not even make it in the free hour time limit. They certainly don’t have any time for “story hour” or “discovery” under such circumstances.
How can FREE PARKING all by itself not been a criterion that would sway the decision to a new building? Free for staff and patrons!
But here’s another idea that the wretches that did the fatally flawed study didn’t address: a new facility could have a DRIVE THROUGH PICKUP WINDOW. Many public libraries have gotten on the ball with this UNIVERSAL DESIGN feature. When I am stuck in my electric wheelchair, I would LOVE to be able to just drive my vehicle through a pickup and BETTER drop off rather than have to get out of the car, travel through snow and ice and rain, just to be able to pick up my books.
And I am guessing THOUSANDS of other library users would love that as well. Moms and Dads with kids especially! How can that OPPORTUNITY not have been covered in the new v. expansion pros and cons?
There would be no extra staff required because the design of the building would have to (please let me provide OVERSIGHT!) place the circulation desk and reserves adjacent to the book drop off and pick up. Right now the library spends time and money pulling books off the shelves that people reserve online.
This includes interlibrary loans and music and videos, all of which are shelved behind the circulation desk and require the staff at the desk to get for you. One lovely drive though and all of that could be managed with existing staff, or possibly fewer depending on other factors if PEOPLE COULD DRIVE THROUGH and pick up reserves.
One person commented on the chi chi phrase of “discovery” being used by library people to describe the opportunities of browsing and finding other material of interest. Indeed “discovery” is a primary reason I am 100% committed to a central library (this does NOT mean downtown center location).
People cannot and should not be forced to park and shuffle kids or get out a wheelchair, or walk when they are too fatigued to do so under the guise that a drive through pickup for reserves would PREVENT “discovery” because these people are NOT THERE TO BROWSE. They did their browsing ONLINE that’s why they did the reserves! When they have time and they think parking will be available or free, they can take all the time they want for “discovery” but that is NOT an acceptable argument to oppose a DRIVE THOUGH PICK UP WINDOW.
Interlibrary loans actually COST THE LIBRARY $10 per book to obtain. Yet, all too often they are never picked up. Why? MAYBE THE PERSON REQUESTING COULDN’T FIND PARKING within the 5 day limit. (Much more education needs to be done to teach people how to use the library and what services are offered. For example, if you can’t make the pick up deadline, you can call and ask for a few days more until you can get there.)
One other idea I had was a way to make the pulling of reserves and return shelving faster, easier, and more efficient. A book elevator. These are like dumbwaiters, only for books. If you have a book elevator right by drop off bins and reserve shelves, you can easily sort fiction from nonfiction for example, and send the books up to the appropriate floor. A new building with this in mind could plan for this and layout the shelving to match what a book elevator could provide as a first level sorting, reducing the number of mass book sorting and carting considerably.
They may have a staff use elevator, I don’t know, but the existing elevator is PAINFULLY DECREPIT and ugly and small. I doubt I could fit in there with my future electric wheelchair that will have to tilt back to take pressure off my spine and my left leg has to be stretched outward because of arthritis in my hip.
Imagine how nice and fun it would be to do a GLASS ELEVATOR so people could see outside and inside. It could even be lit with changing color LED artwork type enhancements that would clearly show from a distance if the library were open or not. There is a parking garage in Ohio like this. I have pictures. It is cool. Also one in Reno. I also have pictures.
So another question you have to ask yourself is, DID THE ORIGINAL STUDY even consider actually disabled people at all? The landscape designer for DMC admitted she had never considered what her landscape designs would be like from a wheelchair perspective (or a child or a short person either I am guessing).
It is one thing to have some numbers provided by decades old legislation, but the INTENT of the ADA is UNIVERSAL DESIGN. For example, if you went for a flat pave lot, AND IT SNOWED, a disabled person in a wheelchair would have trouble clearing the snow from their car even if they were only in the library a short time. So might an elderly person, or a mom dealing with kids. MAYBE A PAVED LOT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA, or maybe something along the lines of a carport style that would keep cars clean and provide a COVERED WALKWAY into the library as well.
The space above could either be library space, maybe an auditorium since that is clearly lusted after by all concerned for the round bit of the existing library (but a new one could have it too). Or a green area with benches to sit in and enjoy some plantings and park benches on nice days. Of course, you could do pocket park on the ground level as well. The Cleveland Public library has a lovely little urban spot with a Maya Lin sculpture in it as well as other book themed statues and benches.
Oh the possibilities of a new library make my heart soar! Why oh why did no one on the study even look at these opportunities?
As I note in my email to Audrey and my public statement to the board last week (attached), they have not done any serious consideration of all the possible options for funding the library out there.
Named rooms for big donors, such as the Mayo auditorium perhaps? How about the IBM computer lab including computers and other tech contributions? How about BROADBAND donated by Charter/Spectrum? There are some funds available for bricks and mortar sometime through the Minnesota State Library programs funded by the IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services), though this program is going to be axed in the current budget, but there might be time and enough money to get in for the last bit.
Audrey never even asked DMC for funds. We all know, and the lady I spoke to even said, it make sense to put a HOTEL right across from the convention center. Surely that location is worth millions to a hotel developer, connected by skyways and right across from it!
I have lots more ideas on funding, and have been a successful grant writer in the past as well as a reviewer for IMLS grants.
Like the bookmobile expansion to bring the library to the people instead of bricks and mortar inflexible and expensive options on many levels, I have lots of ideas of how the library could serve the visitors without them having to have a car to get there. One could be that the hotels would offer their already existing shuttles to do a daily run to the new library location if people requested it. No need, no run. No extra cost to the library or the city to provide access. Another amenity for hotels to offer to give them a competitive edge using vehicles that otherwise would simply be parked.
The library has a large room filled with books that did not sell at the Friends bookshop and aren’t suitable or needed for the collection. Kind of like the Little Free Libraries popping up, maybe a city ordinance would be required, but why not just OFFER THE BOOKS TO LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES? Much better than pulping. I have a picture of a great bus stop that has book shelves with library books on them to read while you wait, and/or take with you on the ride. Then you could just put it back at another BUS STOP LIBRARY. Since the books would be destroyed anyway (is that a cost or a gain for the library?) why not let the people who paid for them originally enjoy them?
Please support me in this cause to change from supporting expansion of the library to a new library building. Hopefully on the 9 acres of land the City has where the old Think bank building was. This would allow for some much needed green space rather than the horrendous concrete pile that is the library now, including the lining of the river.
OH and another thing the original study had as a MAJOR FAIL was the so-called “wash” of the differences did not include THE UTTER MADNESS OF TRYING TO KEEP A PUBLIC LIBRARY OPEN WHILE UNDER MASSIVE RECONSTRUCTION AND REPLACEMENT OF HVAC and more.
Drive through pick up – opportunity lost
Free parking – opportunity lost
Green building – opportunity lost (Platinum LEED!)
Serving the needs of the 99% of users – opportunity lost
Integrating green space, park benches, nature programs – opportunity lost
Serving the needs of the disabled and elderly and families – opportunity lost
Bookmobile expansion to serve unmet needs – opportunity lost
Enhanced contemporary functionality  (book elevator, rolling stacks) – opportunity lost
NAME ARCHITECT for NOTABLE AWARD WINNING BUILDING to enhance the city generally – opportunity lost
Combine with Children’s museum, Disabled MSers housing, and possible community center — even arts center — that won’t happen at the Armory – opportunity lost
Kiss transit dollars goodbye — not a realistic basis for planning the best LIBRARY TO MEET THE PUBLIC NEEDS
I will stop now, but as you might suspect, I have a lot more research, ideas, and I think I could find a way to make a new library building of 180,000 square feet at the City owned land be possible for LESS THAN 55 million dollars. Google Cedar Rapids, Iowa Public Library to see a nice new building.

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