Library Board, city take careful steps toward new facility
While the future of the Grand Forks Public Library is still mostly up in the air, details and questions continue to emerge as library officials and city leaders discuss the library's next steps. At a City Council work session Jan. 13, the Library...
While the future of the Grand Forks Public Library is still mostly up in the air, details and questions continue to emerge as library officials and city leaders discuss the library’s next steps.
At a City Council work session Jan. 13, the Library Board presented some early ideas for its next move, including possible locations for a new library and possible partners.
Council members have raised many questions, including: How will the new library be governed and maintained? What does the public want from a new library? Should the new library even be called a “library”?
The answers to those questions and others will come as the Library Board slowly continues to plan.
“We’re not trying to move too quickly,” said Brian Schill, chairman of the Library Board.
The board was criticized after a 2011 election when a sales tax to fund a new library was rejected by voters. Council members guessed the vote wasn’t against a new library, but against poor planning for it.
This time, “We want to do it smart, and we want to do it right,” Schill said.
At the council work session, it was decided that the city would hire a firm to reevaluate the needs of the library, said Todd Feland, city administrator. The city will advertise for that “in the next week or so,” Feland said Monday.
In October, a Library Working Group of local representatives recommended a new library instead of remodeling the current building at 2110 Library Circle.
Possible library locations revealed Jan. 13 were the Grand Cities Mall, a site near Choice Health & Fitness and on 42nd Street as part of that area’s Destination Corridor project.
Schill declined to provide more information on those locations, other than saying that the Library Board doesn’t have a bias toward any location and doesn’t have enough information to make any decisions yet.
He did say the library is looking for a location of at least 65,000 square feet, based on a 2009 needs assessment.
Schill also said the Library Board is in conversations with potential partners: Dakota Science Center, Grand Forks Senior Center, Grand Forks Park Board, North Dakota Museum of Art and UND.
“These are organizations that naturally seem to fit in the library’s mission,” Schill said.
The Library Working Group’s recommendations included partners or “co-habitants” for a new library, he said.
Council member Dana Sande had said he would like to see a scientific survey of what the public is looking for in a new or revamped library.
Schill said the board has made contacts to do a scientific phone survey, possibly in the next few months.
Another question remaining is: How will a new library be paid for?
Schill said the Library Board is interested in lessening the burden on taxpayers and will seek private donations and grants. He added that in coming months the board will work to start a Library Foundation for donations, as recommended by the North Dakota Library Association for libraries of Grand Forks’ size.
But a new library would still require some tax funding, Schill said, adding that those details could be figured out in time for the November ballot.
Council member Doug Christensen had asked how the library would be governed in a new facility, suggesting that it be owned in a joint-powers agreement between the city and Grand Forks County. That wouldn’t eliminate the Library Board, which could make recommendations, Christensen said.
Schill said he agrees that “There are governance issues that should be clarified as we’re moving forward,” he said, but there isn’t a clear answer as to what that means yet. It may mean having a county commissioner on the Library Board, Schill said.
Christensen also asked about the definition of the new library, saying it shouldn’t even be called a library, but a “community learning center,” with fewer books and more space for tablets, e-readers or computers.
The library does intend to embrace new technologies, Schill said, but from what he’s heard from the community, people are still very interested in actual books, in addition to more technology.
Schill added that the Library Board wants to keep the word “library,” in naming the new facility.
Despite the many remaining questions and differing opinions on details, council member Bret Weber, who is the council’s representative on the Library Board, said he viewed the council’s action in the work session as a sign of strong support for some sort of library, probably in a new building.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” Weber said, but, “That Monday night, the City Council said a library is a priority.”