Need a new library? Enamored of the library in the next town over? I bet your patrons tell you how GREAT it is right? I’m with you. It can be a struggle to provide the best library experience you know how, when the space no longer meets the needs of your services. I work in a community that has long deserved an updated library to replace the one it has now, which was built in the early 60s. Fact is, it’s not always possible. Communities need to balance the needs of all their taxpayers, and often there are other buildings and capital needs which will jump the line ahead of a new public library. While we wait for the right time we must continue to make the current space workable and also utilize it to the best of our abilities. This often means shelling out money to make improvements.
This can be tricky. You don’t want to turn your existing space into a palace, because the right amount of new carpet and updated paint might confuse your community into thinking everything is fine and that the new space you’ve asked for isn’t necessary. It’s going to be a balancing act. As a library director, library trustee, or other key member of library management, you’ll need to have a long range plan developed with two different possible paths.
The first is knowing the ins and the outs of the politics and needs of your community, so that you can find the path to a new library, it’s funding, the groundswell of support and partnership you’ll need, the patience and understanding of the non-library users, and the right messaging and marketing to your patronage.
The second is the 5 to 10 year capital plan needed for your current space, in the event the new building is in fact, not going to happen. You can’t put all your eggs into one basket, and you need to have a path forward in each direction, which you need to appear 100% dedicated to, and you need to have these two plans going at the same time.
The capital investments for the building you are in should be strictly needs, not wants. Think health and safety, or energy efficiency, they are easiest to get support for. These should be the types of updates you are focused on: elevator updates, replacement gutters, asbestos abatement, security cameras, panic buttons, PA systems, updating of lighting, replacement of attic insulation. They also aren’t always very noticeable upgrades, so it won’t derail your other efforts to get a new building plan moving.
It’s likely that you can sneak in paint and carpet here and there, but when you start talking about big updates such as building quiet study rooms or converting areas into a makerspace let’s say, these may be looked at in a negative light. You need your tax base to know you aren’t “wasting money” in a space that is going to be replaced, so be creative in your presentation. Bells and whistles aren’t going to be approved, and if you had independent money you’d be wise not to doll up your older library, so you can continue to show why you truly need a new library, as opposed to just wanting a new library.
In each path, it will be necessary to attract members of the community to your efforts, often times it’s they who can help spread your message most effectively to other citizens.