Archive for Sunday, November 26, 2006

Report: City loves its under-resourced library

November 26, 2006


There's not much to the Lawrence Public Library - but it has a devoted clientele nonetheless.

That seems to be the bottom line of the latest Kansas Public Library Rankings, which rates Lawrence's library fourth among nine Kansas cities serving populations between 25,000 and 99,999.

"One could make the case that people in Lawrence love their library," said Steve Read, director of the McPherson Public Library, who compiled the rankings. "You could also make the case that the resources aren't there - that usage would be greater if the resources were greater."

The rankings were released in October, but came to light this week when the Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library began publicly touting its top rank for libraries serving more than 100,000 people.

Lawrence fell behind public libraries in Hutchinson, Manhattan and Salina, respectively, in its population category.

The ratings were determined based on a formula that evaluated library resources and usage. Lawrence ranked near the bottom of the nine cities in its class in resources, seventh in building size per capita and eighth in collection items per capita.

"If you look at the resource score, you see Lawrence's resources are lower than Dodge City's," Read said.

But Lawrence ranked high in the number of books, videos and other collection items that were checked out by patrons, helping bring up the library's overall score.

"I think that our position in the rankings is a reflection of the extraordinarily high usage we receive in the community," said Bruce Flanders, director of the Lawrence Public Library. "I guess we're making the most of what we have."

The rankings emerge as City Hall considers an expansion of the library that could cost taxpayers up to $30 million. Mayor Mike Amyx said this week he was not surprised by Lawrence's rating.

"I think that's one of the things we've been told through this process, that we have a lot of usage of the library - that's one of the reasons for the expansion of the library, is so we have the resources for people to use it," Amyx said.

Library board members will meet at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the library, 707 Vt., to discuss expansion recommendations.


kugrad 11 years, 6 months ago

We can't afford a new library. Our tax base is already stretched too thin. After a library is built, it will take at least a 4 mil property tax increase to maintain the new library. We cannot afford it.

LawSW 11 years, 6 months ago

Coming back to the Lawrence Library after Johnson County's modern libraries was exceedingly tough. The selection of books isn't there, the computers are substandard and lacking in quantity, there isn't much space. Even if they cannot realize their dream of a new building in these tough economic times--they'd still improve services by updating the dinosaur computers. Even if they had to house books at another site and people could submit requests/place holds on them and a courier brought them over during the day, they'd have more to work with for now. Later on, a cafe (like Topeka) would be a nicety to add. Just PLEASE don't become like Johnson County where people are allowed to talk at increased voice volumes--it's a library, jeez. They've also allowed the kids to take over everything--playing computer games--and you're lucky if you can get a computer. I'd also not want to see Johnson County's electric bill in the summer when they keep it uncomfortably cold.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 6 months ago

Expand it to a location where no money would necessarily need to be spent for additional parking. Put the money into the library. 9th and New Hampshire.

Existing Parking: Two hour free lot on west side 800 block of New Hampshire Parking Garage Street Metered Parking on 9th Metered lot in 800 block Between New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Patrons have been using this library for decades without protection from the elements. We don't always find a space in the lot. Yet patrons still go to the library. Use existing parking areas. Again spend the money on the library not parking.

SteelHorseRider 11 years, 6 months ago

I have to agree with Merril.

Parking is especially poor whenever the pool is open during swimming season and folks still use the library.

Of the plans offered, use of the existing parking as proposed by the Schmalberg / Moore plan coupled with the fact the library would be co-located with the Arts Center makes the most sense.

KsTwister 11 years, 6 months ago

These cities manage better than Lawrence, instead of taxing the daylight out of their citizens they have more businesses in the tax base to help with their wish lists. I really don't see citizens suffering because of a library as much as from property taxes. With all the money spent on roundabouts who decided those priorities? Poor planning on the cities part does not constitute an emergency on ours.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 6 months ago

"$30,000,000.00 would buy 60,000 $500 computers for the people of Lawrence."

I can't see how that's at all relevant.

If the city decided to do that, that's all it would buy (see Jersey Girl's post for a list of things it wouldn't buy or accomodate) and within five years, every one of those would be approaching obsolescence.

Sigmund 11 years, 6 months ago

$30,000,000 library divided by the Lawrence population of 80,100 is about $375 for person. For a family of four that is $1500 NOT including the interest on the bonds.

For that kind of money I love the Interweb, Borders, and Hastings even more than the new library. As a bonus they all three have free parking and I don't have to go downtown and deal with the panhandlers and punks.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 6 months ago

The population of Lawrence is estimated at 88,000 or so, Sigmund, but the larger quibble with your numbers would be that a new library would be paid for by an increasing population, and done so over 20 years, or so. So the yearly per-family costs would probably be $100 or less, and none of those private companies will get you nearly the bang for the buck that a library does.

But I acknowledge that for someone who prefers to be smugly anti-social, the $100 is wasted.

bflanders 11 years, 6 months ago

Marion makes a good point above: "If a new library of any kind is built without adequete parking, it will be a failure...You can build or modify all the libraries that you want but they will not come if access is difficult."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

An expanded library in downtown Lawrence will work for the entire community only if there is adequate parking for the library and surrounding amenities. Libraries provide access to information (in the form of collections of materials, Internet and online databases, and meeting rooms and other collaborative spaces within the library), and that access can occur only when the physical facility can be readily accessed by the public.

I wouldn't feel good about driving three, four, or even five miles to the downtown library from distant parts of the city only to find no parking spaces. That wouldn't have to happen very often for me to get frustrated and give up on the library as the resource it should be.

We are repeatedly told by library patrons of instances during the summer when they circle and circle the parking lot and nearby streets, and finally give up on coming to the library. While we gain some significant symbiotic benefits by being near the Lawrence Aquatic Center, the parking crunch is an intolerable situation that must be addressed by the library expansion project.

A parking solution is by necessity an integral part of the library expansion effort.

Bruce Flanders Library Director

bflanders 11 years, 6 months ago

Another thought regarding parking, in response to the comment from SteelHorseRider: "Parking is especially poor whenever the pool is open during swimming season and folks still use the library."

Yes, people do use the library despite the impossible parking, but think of how many MORE people would use the library if parking was adequate!

People commonly refer to the surface lot to the south of the library as the "library lot," but it is a City parking lot, with many 10-hour meters used throughout the day by people who work nearby. The library has NO dedicated parking. None.

Libraries are for use, and we have been working diligently to achieve the maximum usage from the existing facility and parking resources. We have seen success in our record-breaking circulation of library materials. Our annual user visit statistics, however, appear to have plateaued, which is a strong indicator that we are maxed out in the current facility.

What could happen in an expanded facility with adequate parking? We fully anticipate a 50 percent increase in library usage (user visits, circulation, etc.) during the first year of the new, expanded library facility. While we have been making great strides in offering better service and collections in our current library environment, there is a pent-up demand for library service that can only be met in an expanded facility.

Bruce Flanders Library Director

Jersey_Girl 11 years, 6 months ago

I know I've said this before about expanding the library; Lawrence's library is no bigger than the libraries of the townships of NJ, with populations of about 15,000-20,000. That is pathetic. The library needs to be expanded to reflect the population of Lawrence. I go the library to primarily check out fiction and I find the selection pathetic. We need a bigger, better library. I don't care about the parking. I may not always find a space in the library lot, but it's not going to kill me or anyone else to park a block away and walk. I know Americans are lazy, but come on, people!

bflanders 11 years, 6 months ago

Irish_Prince comments: "The people who love the Lawrence library the most.....are the homeless...I mean, they sleep (more like "pass out") in the library reading area, drink in the library bathrooms, and bathe in the library bathrooms.....I just gotta believe that the Lawrence homeless just looooove their library!!!"

There is a stereotype about public libraries that they are simply havens for the homeless. It's a comment that I hear frequently, and it frankly is more than a little bit off base.

First, we have to be careful about the term, "homeless." I would never label anyone in Lawrence as "homeless" based on their appearance. In this community of eccentrics and "characters," I suspect that the person I perceive as "homeless" is sometimes a millionaire who marches to the beat of his/her own drum. At the library, we never say that anyone is "homeless."

We DO focus on behavior. The library has security guards during most of our public hours, and we thoughtfully but firmly curb inappropriate behavior such as public intoxication.

My goal is to have a public library that is friendly to all, a good place for families to visit, and completely intolerant of inappropriate behavior.

If you haven't been to the public library in a few years, check us out! Inappropriate behavior is dealt with swiftly and professionally. I suspect you'll be surprised at how friendly the library and its staff is. It is a great place for families, teens, seniors and our entire community.

Bruce Flanders Library Director

Sigmund 11 years, 6 months ago

Bozo, I used the latest census figures (2000) which arguably underestimates current figures, but what is weird is you are now pro-growth? What happens if the no-growth, no new homes, growth doesn't pay for itself, merrill types maintain control? Then what happens to your cost estimates and the need for a new library?

While I don't mind upgrading current facilities and adding multiple branches, which can be spread out over a number of years and can be adapted as needs and circumstances change, I am opposed to throwing all our 30 million eggs into an already over crowded downtown basket.

The nice thing about private companies is if you don't find anything of value, or a better value elsewhere, you don't have to keep paying them for 20 years!

So you consider hanging out at the library downtown a social life? That explains so much.

bflanders 11 years, 6 months ago

I'm spending my entire afternoon responding to comments in this interesting discussion thread. That's ok...

LawSW writes: "Coming back to the Lawrence Library after Johnson County's modern libraries was exceedingly tough. The selection of books isn't there, the computers are substandard and lacking in quantity, there isn't much space. Even if they cannot realize their dream of a new building in these tough economic times--they'd still improve services by updating the dinosaur computers."

Johnson County's per capita funding of its libraries far exceeds that of Lawrence, and they have a GREAT library system, professionally managed and visionary in its approach to branch library service.

You describe our library's computers as "substandard" and "lacking in quantity" -- and as "dinosaurs."

The public access computers in the library (especially in the lower level area) are actually fairly up to date (no more than one-two years old).

Lacking in quantity, though? MOST DEFINITELY. A library serving a community of our size should have well over 100 public access computers. We have 35. That is a significant concern, for sure. We have implemented an automated reservation system to control access to these computers, but would remove or greatly liberalize that system with more computers in an expanded facility.

The most significant problem with our current public access workstation environment, however, and the one that makes our existing computers appear to be fossilized, is our limited Internet bandwidth. We operate a dual T1 connection, which may seem like a lot at first blush, but which is entirely inadequate to handle high-speed Internet access and the multimedia information needs that library patrons have.

An upgrade to the library's Internet bandwidth would do wonders for the perception of the library's computers. (If you could find an available one...) We anticipate a modest expansion of the library's Internet bandwidth in 2007, but operational budget constraints will unfortunately mean that it will not be enough to really make a difference.

Bruce Flanders Library Director

BabysMomma 11 years, 6 months ago

I grew up coming to this library and love it no matter how many resources it has. I save hundreds--if not thousands--of dollars a year borrowing my CDs, DVDs, books and magazines there and feel like I maximize what's being offered as best I can.

I don't have any strong feelings either way on the parking, but it occurs to me that if someone (who is generally healthy) is unwilling to park in beautiful Old West Lawrence and hoof it 2 - 3 blocks then maybe they're just kind of lazy.

I think it's also important to point out that the library staff people are friendly and helpful despite being stretched extremely thin.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 6 months ago

"but what is weird is you are now pro-growth? "

I'm neutral on growth, as are most folks who commonly get the label "anti-growth." That's usually because the "pro-growthers" have difficulty understanding the difference between promoting growth and planning for/managing it.

The current library was built when Lawrence was considerably smaller than it is now. It needs upgrading to meet the demands of growth that has already happened.

Personally, I think we should have a scaled back plan, of say $20 million, and build it next to the Arts Center. (an addition at the current site doesn't address parking problems,) In 5-10 years, we'll probably need to spend that much more on expansions somewhere, but I think the city's backlog of problems built up through several decades of mismanagement by the growth industry needs to be dealt with first.

"So you consider hanging out at the library downtown a social life?"

Yes, it is a part of a social life, although I'm sure that's a wholly foreign concept to you.

Sigmund 11 years, 6 months ago

BabysMomma, I am not sure the homeowners in Old West Lawrence are too thrilled to turn their streets and their curbs into a parking lot for the Library. If you are in generally good health, why not just walk from home? We could then turn all parking into handicapped parking.

However, if there were a branch library in your neighborhood you might not even have to get in your car. Parking for handicapped and more able-bodied would be free.

Johnson County does spend more per capita on libraries, and just about everything else, than Douglas County because they have a much higher income on average than Douglas County. About the only thing that is higher in Douglas County is our cost per square foot for housing.

Might I suggest that if having a great library is that high of a priority for you, you could move to Johnson County and save a few bucks on your housing costs as a bonus.

Sigmund 11 years, 6 months ago

Perhaps someone can answer a question. I thought all of Lawrence residents have access to the multiple libraries at KU. Is that still the case?

Sigmund 11 years, 6 months ago

It looks like many of the KU libraries are available to the general public.

Surely KU's resources, most of which are located here in Lawrence and most which are available to the general public, were counted when calculating the resources available to Lawrence residents? Right? Lawrence residents that are faculty, staff or students at KU (25,000 - 30,000 as far as I can tell) have access to virtually all of KU's resources.

I really, really hope Lawrence does not build a $30 million library in the heart of a already congested downtown. A neighborhood branch system could more easily be adapted to changing demographics and would be in a better position to serve their patrons interests. The costs and could be spread over many years and the traffic would be more evenly distributed across our streets.

bflanders 11 years, 6 months ago

Sigmund asks if KU's library "resources were counted when calculating the resources available to Lawrence residents?" This question comes up from time to time. To respond, please allow me to quote our library building consultant (Jeffrey Scherer, "Vision for 2025"):

"During the public meetings, individuals asked about the relationship between the public library and the academic library at the University of Kansas. The library, whether public or academic, is unique in giving its name to the only profession that derives its name from a particular type of building, which in turn derives its name from a particular physical object, the book. It is the exactness of the name and the fact that each library type holds books that leads to the confusion... Implicit in the question is whether or not there could be savings or beneficial synergies between the two institutions. Although there may be some surface similarities, and cooperative synergies already exist, as currently configured, one library cannot exist as the replacement for the other.

The academic library is designed as an institution to serve a particular constituency of researchers, students, faculty, and staff... The collection is developed by academic librarians for academics-based on the mission and pedagogy of the institution. More specifically, the academic library is structured to support the teaching and research mission of the university...

While the public library has a similar function, it is founded on serving different and broader community-wide needs. The collection, by the nature of the constituents, is more eclectic and wider-ranging -- including materials for all ages, tastes, and walks of life. Some examples of other public library community based services include meeting room space for community meetings and gatherings; children's programs to enhance community and emergent literacy; space for teens to attend a poetry slam; and programs for adults who may wish to learn how to use a computer or grow a garden. Public library staff answer tens of thousands of questions annually. Staff may assist users in myriad ways, from determining a possible science fair project to providing technical information on repairing an automobile electrical system.

It is important to recognize these institutional differences and audience needs. While it is technically feasible for a resident to visit the library at the University of Kansas, inherent limitations may hinder the visit, including access, lack of parking, lack of materials for general readership and limited seating... Finally, other issues to consider include age incompatibility and the fact that the University of Kansas library was sized only for its student body and faculty."

Bruce Flanders Library Director

Jersey_Girl 11 years, 6 months ago

Actually, the one thing I do think the library has an adequate number of is computers. Sure, we could always use more, but I've never had to wait to use one. And while I compare Lawrence's library to the ones in the townships in NJ, it may be about the same size as the ones in the towns with populations of around 20,000, those libraries generally also only have about 4 computers. That's about 1 for every 5,000 people. Lawrence's ratio is double that. I don't know how many cybercafes Lawrence has or how many people depend on public computers. I do think the library is doing great with the computers they currently have.

Jersey_Girl 11 years, 6 months ago

Marion - the library needs to be bigger, wether they add stories to the current facility (it may not even be built to support more stories) or a new facility is built, not only for the 65 other computers Bruce would like to see installed, but for expanding other resources. The current library simply does not have the room for more books, magazine, computers, DVDs, CDs and everything else they have. The selection is limited on every resource the library has.

jafs 11 years, 6 months ago

I am strongly opposed to any library expansion plans that require the kind of taxpayer money that is being discussed.

My suggestions for improving the library:

Keep circulating materials in good condition (an increasing number of CD's and DVD's are not in good condition, skipping frequently)

Use the space more efficiently (I notice that the new CD's seem to be in slim plastic sleeves rather than jewelboxes, which is a very good idea)

Train staff better, especially regarding computer use. Too many staff members seem to have no understanding or interest in helping people use the computers.

Hold patrons accountable for their use/abuse of library materials.

And, regardless of what Mr. Flanders may believe, there is an increasingly large number of "homeless" folks who hang out, sleep, etc. at the library, which makes sense given the general increase in that population over the last several years.


bflanders 11 years, 6 months ago

Response to Jersey_Girl and just_another_bozo_on_this_bus (from another Firesign Theatre fan): Thank you. You are absolutely correct in your comments above.

Expanded access to computer technology AND additional seating, enhanced collections, expanded/flexible meeting room space, a computer lab, significantly enhanced space for children's and young adult collections and programming, etc., etc. -- all of these are needs that when met come together in a synergistic whole to form a modern public library.

Lawrence needs and deserves an outstanding public library. It is my hope that we can all capture that vision. If your knowledge of what a public library can be is limited to our local library, visit some nearby public libraries (Boulder, Johnson County, Columbia, Springfield, Fayetteville). I promise it will be an eye-opening experience.

Of course I'm biased, but what better investment could we make for the future well-being of our community than a excellent public library?

Bruce Flanders Library Director

jafs 11 years, 6 months ago

Mr. Flanders,

Improving the quality of our streets & public transit system, increasing the number of good full-time jobs, creating/subsidizing affordable housing, dealing with the homeless/street people issue, reducing crime, reducing sprawl and development, and preserving natural resources would all be better investments in Lawrence's future well-being than an expanded library, in my opinion.

And I say that as one who supports public libraries and has used the Lawrence one for some years now. It is and has been completely adequate for my use, and if my suggestions were implemented, it would be excellent.

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