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Interim Report - Sept 25, 1997


Interim Report of the Library 21 Committee to the Cambridge City Manager

September 25, 1997

The Library 21 committee is very pleased to present to you this interim report on our comprehensive program for a library for the twenty-first century and to make recommendations regarding the building location. As of September 9, 1997 the committee has held 20 meetings, each one open to the public and fully reported in minutes posted in libraries, our web site and in frequent news articles.

Our charge in the March 25, 1996 City Council order was to: "... thoroughly review the proposed program and design in order to assure:

a. That the program includes what is needed for a modern, first rate library to serve the citizens of Cambridge well into the 21st century; but that the program not include elements which are unnecessary or space that can be realistically shared with the nearby Cambridge Rindge and Latin School; and

b. That the Library addition and parking be designed to ensure minimum encroachment on the existing open space; and

c. That the plans for parking and traffic be satisfactory and feasible; and

d. That as many appropriate program elements as possible be assigned to branch libraries; and be it further

e. That the future operating cost of the main library and its effect on the operation of the branches be considered by the advisory committee, in conjunction with the Library Director and the Board of Trustees.

The Committee developed a mission to further guide our work:

Provide a set of recommendations to the City Manager for a library system that includes the roles, services and physical requirements to equitablymeet the needs of the people of Cambridge and enhance the quality of life in the City for the 21st Century.

The Committee's strategies will include significant public education and outreach that will engage all sectors of the Cambridge community to solicit their input. The Committee will encourage advice and assistance from a wide variety of experts.

The Program for a 21st Century Main Library:

The Library 21 Committee is proud to present the results of our work to date: a program that explains the vision, the audiences, the roles, and the space needs for a main library that will serve everyone in Cambridge well into the 21st century. We took several approaches to arrive at the final program: consulting with a wide range of individuals and groups all over the city, visiting recently enlarged or newly built libraries in Eastern Massachusetts, as well as others across the country, holding a well-attended symposium on libraries of the future as well as reviewing the "Needs Assessment" document prepared in 1994 with the help of the library staff. We went over this report with a fine-tooth comb and found that it provided the necessary baseline for definining the function and space needs for the proposed main library.

One of the most difficult aspects of establishing the program has been to develop the space requirements. How many square feet are necessary to give the city an outstanding main library without being extravagant? We have come to the conclusion that 90,000 to 100,000 square feet would house our program and provide for some future expansion. This size will encompass the technology needs, the increased reference and collection services, the expanded children's and young adults services -- and allow the main library to provide services to the entire public. It will also meet the American Disabilities Act requirements, including restrooms, and will give the staff a much needed work space. (Note that the ADA requirements alone add 25% right off the top.)

Put into perspective, the American Library Association recommends 1 square foot of per capita; while the current main library, at 36,000 sq.ft., is woefully inadequate. During our study, we visited the new main libraries in: Waltham at 46,000 sq.ft, population 55,000; Arlington at 49,000 sq.ft., population 44,000; Newton at 91,000 sq.ft., population 83,000; Everett at 19,000 sq.ft., population 36,000; Plymouth at 55,000 sq.ft., population 40,000.

Santa Monica, a community of similar size and demographics in California, has plans to double its 74,000 sq.ft. main library. In contrast, many cities across the country: Broward County, Denver, San Francisco, San Antonio, Phoenix, to name a few, have new libraries that are pushing 300,000 sq.ft. The Boston Public Library is about 300,000 sq.ft.

To make sure we were on the right track, we invited four well-respected local library directors to critique our program; they gave it exceptionally high marks. After this review, we are confident that with our program in hand and the appropriate site, an architect working in tandem with the library staff, would know could begin to design a building, assuming, of course, that a site had been selected. The next step in our process, concurrent with the siting process (outlined below), is to give the program a solid public review.

During the last 15 months, we have focused on the program and what Cambridge needs in terms of services and space allocations for its library. Our primary concern during this period has been to learn what was possible and desireable for a new library to benefit all Cambridge citizens now and our children in the 21st century and to share that information with the community. We have provided a process that allowed for questions, dialogue and input from a wide range of professionals in the field. Many people have told us that they have never seen such a dedicated committee; we have certainly tried to be responsible and methodical and each member of our committee deserves significant credit for this work. We are now ready to move on -- and we believe the public is too -- to the issue of siting.

Recommendation for siting:

One component of our charge was to find a program that can be carried out on the Broadway site. But we have discovered there is much debate over this aspect of the charge within the community. There are questions about the amount of land available for expansion, the suitability of the building itself for expansion, sufficient parking, the traffic flow, access to public transportation, and the impact of an expanded building on the open space. The City, in fact, has made a committment to protect the open space from encroachment. We feel that to limit any discussion on siting to the Broadway location would not answer these and other questions.

Therefore, we recommend that the best approach is for the city to conduct an objective site search and analysis and include the Broadway site in this process. We have attached a scope of services for the search to this report. [Not available on Web site]

The L21 Committee is unanimous that the program not be sacrificed to fit a particular site. We have worked long and hard, listened to many groups across the city, studied libraries across the country and have come to the conclusion that the City of Cambridge needs a main library of the size and scope of the one that we are proposing. We have looked at a range of alternatives, including a completely decentralized main library with functions in various locations. None of these were cost effective or remotely feasible. We were skeptical at first that with so many branches, we needed a main library. The opposite is true. Branches can be cost effective only with a strong main library.

Given the issues surrounding the Broadway site, and the controversy during the previous expansion proposal in 1995, the L21 Committee feels that there will be very little, if any, chance of success if the Broadway site remains the only alternative. The physical plant of the Main Library is in dire need of improvement; the public has told us what the staff knows only too well: the Main Library simply cannot properly serve the community without appropriate expansion to accommodate our needs.

Role of the L21 Committee during the site analysis process:

Our role would be as advisors to the City Manager so he could make use of the depth of experience we have acquired over the last year and a half. The Committee would like to assist the City Manager and the professional team establish the criteria for site analysis and selection. The schedule of the Committee's involvement with the consultants during the process would be worked out ahead of time so as to ensure the independence of the site analysis process. We would also like to review the team's findings so that we could prepare a set of comments for the City Manager. Our communications with the team would be through the City Manager so as not to confuse the process. We also recommend that we continue to inform the public of the process status.

Submitted by the Library 21 Committee:

Nancy Woods, Richard Rossi, Co-Chairs

Bill Barry Karen Carmean Ed DeAngelo John Gintell Karen Kosko David Szlag
Ruth Butler Emily West Robert Winters Susan Flannery Roger Boothe
Susan Clippinger Charles Sullivan Pat Murphy