City Council checklist for Austin Public Library’s new central building

I am a huge fan of the Austin Public Library.  I am constantly surprised at the breadth of its collection and the reach of its branches.  A new central building is being designed amidst a time of great upheaval in the economy, the delivery of content, higher education, and public facilities.   There are anecdotes of library systems out there where DVDs are the main circulation item. So as the cliche goes, the new building represents APL’s efforts to take advantage of the opportunity instead of getting swallowed by the crisis.

The design of the new central building is coming before the City Council sometime in February.  The design will have implications for the program available, as well as clues to APL’s strategy going forward.  Here is APL’s latest strategic plan.  As the Council reviews the design, here are four issues they should make sure to cover.

1. ACC.  The community college is persistently growing, and if the US is indeed in for an era of skill upgrades, ACC is going to be at the heart of the region’s human capital strategy.  APL’s space, web tools, and its collection should aim to integrate with ACC’s needs (i.e. collaborative work space for students, a collection that shifts more towards the reference texts and online resources). I can assure you that if APL put these resources out for cash-strapped, nimble students, they would boost their circulation-per-dollar and per-capita massively.  If ACC shows up to support the design during the public testimony, we know that APL and the community college are working together to leverage each other’s resources.  If not, then there is potentially a missed opportunity.

2. Collaborative workspace.  The local market is creating co-working spaces, like Austin’s Conjuctured.  The stereotype of the professional workspace as some big office just simply isn’t the case, and it probably won’t be going forward whether because of the rise in price of carbon fuels, a brake up of big firms into smaller, flexible contracting niches, or a trend towards tele-commuting as employees push for work life balance.  Further, Austin is firmly committed to propelling small business and entrepreneurship.  The first thing many people need is a decent ad hoc space for planning, meeting, and working.  APL can help fill these needs.  The design has ample, wired, well-lit rooms that facilitate individual and team work sessions.

3. Digital divide.  For Austin’s most economically marginal residents, the library is the frontline of closing the digital divide.  If the design doesn’t have substantial space for public computers, then it’s not serious about playing its part in bridging the divide.

4. Little kids.  The library is a key amenity for parents.  Personally, I think this reflects our failure to appropriately invest in 0-5 year-old education, enrichment, and cultural amenities.  I’d prefer that APL be able to focus on its knowledge repository and workforce support tasks, but the scarcity of American investment in kid amenities means we cram this function into the local library.  Hopefully, the design will include teaching rooms and child-focused performance spaces.

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8 Responses to City Council checklist for Austin Public Library’s new central building

  1. M1EK says:

    The most important decision for the central library to tackle has already been made, and been made wrong.

    http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000536.html

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      As your post points out, the location is too far away from transit. Hopefully, we can get the space and programming right. Why did they go with that placement?

      • M1EK says:

        Because nobody raising funds for or advocating for the new library understands (or cares about) transit, and they weren’t willing to listen to those who do. Pretty simple, really.

  2. David Walker says:

    Julio, would love to see a coworking space or sorts in the new APL. You make some great points! If there’s any advice or anything I could offer, would definitely love to be a part of it. I go to the library quite frequently and would be a huge proponent of positive change.

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      David. I am a big fan of what conjuctured is doing and really inspired by where you are doing it.

      Some Qs :What’s is the niche that APL should fill in terms of working and collaborative spaces that the market isn’t going to? Should APL charge or is it free? Should it be first-come-first serve or should reservations be possible? What pointers would you give APL and the Council about making public facilities useful for entrepreneurs, solo consultants, and people who need spaces to get things done but don’t work for businesses/orgs with lots of resources?

      • David Walker says:

        Glad to hear you’re a fan of Conjunctured–so cool! [answers to your questions below]

        1. What’s the niche that APL should fill in terms of working and collaborative spaces that the market isn’t going to.

        Access to resources. Big open spaces for LARGE meetings. Besides the space itself access to library resources would be very beneficial. Hoovers, Lexis Nexis, etc.

        2. Should APL charge or is it free?

        Must be free. It is a library after all. Donation based for events would be a good way to monetize. Maybe could charge for access to meeting rooms and conference rooms, though.

        3. Should it be first-come-first serve or should reservations be possible?

        Reservations for meeting rooms and conference rooms and event meeting space. But for the coworking itself, just first come first serve.

        4. What pointers would you give APL and the Council about making public facilities useful for entrepreneurs, solo consultants, and people who need spaces to get things done but don’t work for businesses/orgs with lots of resources?

        I would go the Barnes and Noble route. Making a library just like a book store would be amazing. There’s a natural synergy that happens in a book store because of access to resources + ability to talk openly without worrying about being quiet like in a standard library. Conjunctured gets requests all the time for busineses in town that want to host offsite team working days for 10-12 people. We can’t handle that many people in one room, so having rooms like that would be beneficial. The key is having a space that is not just a space, but a community. You would need to have a designated Community Manager, that helps people get to know each other, find opportunities, etc. People are not attracted to open spaces—they’re attracted to being a part of something. (At least the solo workers). Would be happy to talk to you or anyone in the city more in length about this in person. Kudos to you for getting the conversation going!

  3. JMVC says:

    Many thanks for the insightful recommendations and the acknowledgment of ACC’s role in our City’s economic future. I have passed these suggestions on to my colleagues on the ACC Board of Trustees, and I will encourage their consideration.

    On another note, I was very involved in the discussions regarding the new central library, having served on the boards of directors of the Austin Public Library Foundation, Friends of the Austin Public Library and Austin History Center Association. I also work for Capital Metro, and can tell you there were indeed people involved in this effort that care about transit and ensuring access to this and other public facilities.

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