March 17, 2018

Powerful Partnerships: Integrated Service | Library by Design, Spring 2012

By Marta Murvosh

A handful of library building partnerships have resulted in libraries integrating operations with their partners. Librarians working in these environments joke that they are married to their building partners.

In Australia, integrated-service libraries are commonplace, generally a combination of public libraries and schools, serving students and the community at large. In the United States, joint libraries and integrated service are unusual, and when they occur, they tend to be between public and academic libraries. At least one joint academic-public library has broken up when the Irving City Council and the North Lake Community Library ended its two-year partnership in 2004 with North Lake College in Texas after a new college president started, says Dewberry’s Denelle Wrightson.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San José, CA, has set the standard for these partnerships. The eight-story King library was the brainchild of then–San José mayor Susan Hammer and then–San José State University president Robert Caret. The pair wanted to forge deeper connections between the community and the university, says Jane Light, San José Public Library director.

Hammer and Caret immediately encountered opposition in part because they didn’t go through the city council and other political and bureaucratic channels, Light says. Different stakeholders feared that their interests would suffer under an integrated library, she says.

They also needed to find money for construction and move other university offices from the old Clark Library to elsewhere on campus, says consultant Patricia Senn Breivik, who worked with Light to bring the partnership to fruition. She was then San José State University Library dean. “You don’t announce a major thing like this without having 60 percent of the funding in hand, and they didn’t have it,” says Breivik, adding fundraising was easier with such an inspiring project.

Breivik and Light were challenged by merging two different organizations with different cultures, structures, labor groups, and pay scales. Public and academic librarians shadowed one another on the job. Each institution brought strengths that enhance the other, such as the public library’s strong collection of language materials and the academic library’s history collection. The two library leaders set up committees on every possible issue, and the committees worked through policies and procedures and made recommendations; library staff gave input at open hearings.

“We really believed it had to be truly integrated. There were no models at that level,” Breivik says. “The library is still the crown jewel for the downtown area.”

Notable to the project are the library’s two main entrances, connecting it to the campus and to the community. Those told the community that the university was opening up its doors to the city, Breivik says. Today, the King Library sees up to 12,000 people each day. It was LJs 2004 Library of the Year (

“The message to a lot of families where no one had ever gone to college or dreamed about going to college was: ‘You can do it,’ ” says Breivik. “It’s only one step beyond your public library.”

Virginia Beach/Tidewater Community College joint library | VA

The King Library in San José inspired librarians at Virginia Beach Public Library (VBPL) and Tidewater Community College (TCC) to strive to combine TCC’s library with a new public branch, says Marcy Sims, director of VBPL.

The city and college even hired the same architects, Anderson Brulé of San José and Carrier Johnson of San Diego, to work with RRMM Architects of Norfolk to design a 120,000 square foot facility that will open in 2013 with the goal of providing seamless service to students and the general public. Construction began in ­February.

The college and city decided to partner in 2004 when former TCC president Deborah DiCroce and Virginia Beach city manager Jim Spore realized that each institution planned to build libraries across the street from each other, Sims says. “We’re really creating new territory for the both of us,” Sims says. “We realized that we aren’t that different. Our end goal is quality service to our ­customers.”

The floor plan was driven by anticipating users’ experiences and the California architects’ desire to build as green as possible. The building, shaped like a crescent bisected by four glass rectangles, includes a clerestory designed at an angle to act as a “light machine,” capturing sunlight in the arched section of the building. Inside, users will have comfortable seating. “We looked at creating spaces that people would want to gravitate to for either study or leisure reading,” Sims says.

Like the King Library, Virginia Beach’s first floor will be for people on the go. It will have a “marketplace” layout featuring popular fiction and nonfiction, CDs, and DVDs, Sims says. Many of the library’s 380 computers will be on the first floor, including individual and collaborative workstations and spots for quick printing.

A 35′-wide, 400′-long walkway called “Main Street” follows the arced wall, connecting the different sections of the branch and four open stairwells. Main Street ends in the “Living Room,” with newspaper and magazine racks and fireplace seating.

The upper story will be quieter and filled with more scholarly resources, carrels for library users to settle in with a laptop or a book, and collaborative study rooms. “We’ll have a lot of small group study rooms to address how students do their work today in a team environment,” Sims says.

South Mountain Community Library | Phoenix

The spacious South Mountain Community Library’s open floor plan, flowing from one area into another, inspires users to look outside of themselves and imagine possibilities, says division chair for the Library and Teaching & Learning Center Amy MacPherson. “When you walk into the building, the vista, the horizon is so far in front of you that it allows for expansiveness of thought and creative thinking.”

The 51,600 square foot, two-story library opened in August 2011 with an integration of library staff from Phoenix Public Library (PPL) and South Mountain Community College.

The building’s exterior features a stratified copper rain screen that protects the building from heat and weather. Its texture calls to mind library card barcodes, says James Richärd, principal and architect at richärd + bauer, which designed the library. Many of the interior walls are constructed of glass etched with designs and textures inspired by the community’s agricultural heritage, including asters, citrus groves, and sorghum and cotton fields.

The college paid for almost two-thirds of the building. The city library system provides the bulk of the collection. The cultural shift that the staff from the public and academic libraries underwent and continue to experience during the merger of operations was reflected in integrating the reference and circulation desks. Different cultures can have different priorities, says Annette Vigil, one of two South Mountain comanagers. (Vigil works for PPL and comanager Lydia Johnson, a college faculty librarian, reports to MacPherson.)

“We are married in this building,” Vigil says. “This is a great experience. We are figuring it out as we go along.”

Like the King Library, South Mountain offers grab-and-go items, such as DVDs and new releases, on the ground floor, where the children and teen areas also are located. That energy combined with people heading to and from community meeting rooms can generate noise that is dampened by variegated cedar slats backed with acoustical material lining the ceiling and some walls.

The collection on each floor is laid out similarly; for example, nonfiction about children is found on the second floor directly in the same area that children’s picture books are located on the floor below, Richärd says. The upper floor is designated a quieter area; frosted glass encloses study and activity rooms. In the study areas, whiteboards called “wall talkers” stretch from floor to ceiling. “You can write from the baseboard to as far as you can reach; you can have big ideas,” MacPherson says. “We have 44″ screens in the study rooms so you can project huge and not have everyone huddled around a laptop.”

Both MacPherson and Vigil emphasize that the operation does not save money; instead, it offers the college and community at large access to a greater number of resources. Like the King Library, South Mountain has opened its doors to everyone. Tots who first come to the library for baby story time will grow into teens who enroll in college because they have always gone to college, notes MacPherson. “An integrated library allows me to change many more people’s lives.”

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