September 18, 2014

Powerful Partnerships: Shared Buildings | Library by Design

By Marta Murvosh

Libraries sharing buildings with centers of recreation and learning report that their partners bring exposure to new users. Libraries are also forming partnerships to share buildings with other agencies focused on education, such as colleges and historic societies. In the East Bay Area of California, the Lafayette Library and Learning Center building is shared by the library and the Glenn Seaborg Learning Consortium, a partnership of 12 education, science, and arts institutions.

In Central Arizona, the Prescott Valley Public Library’s (PVPL) partnership with North Arizona University and Yavapai College offered added classroom space to the institution, and, three years after opening, 50 university students attend class in the library building, says Stuart Mattson, PVPL library director. Still, librarians look to deepen the partnership. “It’s really exciting, and there’s been a lot of potential and still is a lot of potential for development as far as interaction between students and library staff,” says Kathy Hellman, PVPL manager. “We’re still getting a handle on what we as librarians can offer to students and faculty.” (For more on this project, see “Case Study: Experimenting with Design and a New Staffing Model,” in Fall 2011 Library by Design at ow.ly/advN1.)

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Fruita Branch l Mesa County l Public Library District l CO

Hundreds of new library users discovered the Fruita branch of the Mesa County Public Library District (MCPLD) as a result of sharing a building with the city’s senior and recreation centers. The $2.1 million, 7000 square foot branch opened in February 2011 on city-owned land. Annual circulation skyrocketed by 57 percent, from 86,549 items in 2010 to 136,239 in 2011, says Bob Kretschman, library district public information manager.

“It gets a lot of business that we didn’t have in our old branch,” says Eve Tallman, MCPLD director. “It’s a natural combination where people can feed their mind and exercise their bodies.”

The Mesa County Public Library District was seeking a location for a new and improved branch in Fruita and accepted the city of Fruita’s offer to participate in the then-proposed community center. Subsequently, voters within the city of Fruita approved a sales-tax increase to pay for the city’s portion of the community center. The library branch construction was funded from the library district’s capital budget, with some significant private donations, says Tallman. The library district put in $2.4 million, and the city raised $2 million in grants and donations.

The city’s architect, Sink Combs Dethlefs, subcontracted with Humphries Poli Architects to design the library. Humphries Poli principal Dennis Humphries says the combination intrigued him. “There’s a significant sharing of resources,” Humphries says. This allowed the library to concentrate on features that would enhance services.

Tallman worked with Humphries to ensure that the sound of basketballs would not impact readers. The library also sacrificed its dream of drive-up service, offering a walk-up window instead. “That way moms don’t have to unload all the kids from the car seats,” Tallman says.

The library district has a 99-year lease with a buyout clause, and so far the city is pleased with the partnership. “They bring a lot of people to the community center that wouldn’t normally come,” says Kinney. “It’s an incredibly symbiotic relationship.”


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Grove Hall Branch l Boston Public Library l Dorchester, MA

A challenged neighborhood got a “shot in the arm” when Boston Public Library’s (BPL) Grove Hall Branch was collocated with the expansion of Jeremiah E. Burke High School and the Grove Hall Community Center, says Mark Schatz, principal at Schwartz/Silver Architects, the Boston firm that designed the colorful building.

Librarians, who worked to tailor the collection to the neighborhood’s diverse needs, have heard from library users that the library promotes feelings of safety and community, says Christine Schonhart, BPL’s director of branch libraries.

The combination of the school, library, and community center in one of Boston’s largest and most diverse neighborhoods was part of Mayor Thomas Menino’s Community Learning Initiative. The first two stories are open to the public as the library and community center, Schatz says. The school library occupies the third floor. The gymnasium is on the fourth. After school, the gym and the school library are open to the public. Gym noise is masked by special materials, Schatz says.

To bring in natural light and attract passersby into the branch library, Schatz created a two-story brightly multicolored glass façade that sets it apart from the school and community center, which has red brick façade similar to the brick art deco school. A “funky” bright red stairwell connects the different levels of the library, school, and gym, striking the balance between keeping the school sections secure during the day and inviting the public in at night. “We wanted a lot of glass,” Shatz says. “We didn’t want it to look corporate. We wanted it to be playful and a lot fun.”

One form of fun: the library brings in performers and musicians to make the most of a jazz lounge for quiet contemplation. Also, on the second floor, teens have their own area, including a quiet space. The library added a YA librarian to the tutors offered by the Boston Centers for Youth and Family, Schonhart says. “It changes a library especially when a teenager can recognize a space just for them,” she says. Something’s working: in the first year, branch circulation rose almost 40 percent and an impressive 1200 new library cardholders signed up.


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Perry-Sippo Branch l Stark County Library District | Canton | OH

To play up the partnership between Perry-Sippo Branch and the Exploration Gateway of Stark County Park District (SCPD) in Canton, OH, architect Dan Meehan drew inspiration from bodies of water and trails.

Geometric designs resembling waves, fins, and tree rings adorn bookshelves and other fixtures. The shelves are positioned like schools of fish, says Meehan, a principal at Holzheimer Bolek + Meehan Architects, LLC, in Cleveland. Information trees are constructed of material that changes color as library users walk around them. Kids can walk under an aquarium to enter the children’s area. An open deck offers views of Sippo Lake. Hiking trails start at the library building. “You sense it’s more than a library,” says Meehan of the branch, which replaced a building destroyed by fire in another location. “It’s a real special space.”

Behind the scenes, the staffs of the Exploration Gateway and the library share locker and break rooms, aiding cross-pollination, Meehan says. The library leases from the nature center, and the organizations share an entry/­exhibit hall.

The combination has resulted in the nature center and the library door counts hitting 200,000 and 140,000 each year, respectively, says Bob Fonte, director of SCPD. He says he expected between 25,000 and 50,000 people in the first year.

“The beauty of it is you sit out on the deck of the library and look out on the lake and in the winter by fireplace and look out window.” Fonte says. “It’s a psychological respite.”


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Charles E. Miller Branch & Historical Center l Howard County Library System l Ellicott City, MD

The Howard County Historical Society has enjoyed increased visibility over the handful of months since it moved this past winter into the Howard County Library (HCL) System Charles E. Miller Branch & Historical Center. “The rewards have been incredible,” says Lisa Mason-Chaney, historical society executive director. “Working with the library staff has been a wonderful experience, and being located in the library has given the historical society much greater visibility.”

In January, the historical society had an unheard of 223 visitors, signed up 30 new members, and tripled its volunteer hours, says Valerie J. Gross, HCL president and CEO.

When the library system decided to replace its aging, cramped Miller branch with a two-story 63,000 square foot building, inviting the historical society to join them seemed to be a smart move, Gross says. The library’s mission of education and bringing history to life would be bolstered by joining forces with the historical society. The society’s extensive archival collection features Babe Ruth’s marriage license, for instance. In turn, the society’s experts would add to the library’s historical expertise, and the thousands of library users would be exposed to the historical society, Gross says.

The Miller branch embraces both the past and future with historic displays and solar panels and a vegetative roof. The library worked with the society to design a 1000 square foot reading and research room that’s shared with the branch. The historic collection is kept in a secure climate-controlled, windowless room with restricted access. The shared room acts as an archives reading room when the historical society is open, restricting what users can bring in when rare documents are being examined, Gross says. When the archive is closed, library users can bring drinks and backpacks into the space. The society pays a portion of the utilities in lieu of rent.

“We worked with them to design the Historical Center, a vision that brings history to life in unprecedented ways,” Gross says.


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