The Williamson County Public Library presented a 10-year comprehensive plan on Wednesday that outlines improvements to county libraries.
The Williamson County Public Library presented a 10-year comprehensive plan on Wednesday that outlines improvements to county libraries, including everything from carpet upgrades to adding on to existing facilities.
Maureen Arndt, an engineer with 720 Design, conducted the facilities study to create the plan. The plan provided information about the community’s library system and changes that can be made moving forward.
“Williamson County continues to grow, it’s the fastest growing county in Tennessee and our libraries must be ready to grow with the changing environment it serves,” Arndt said. “This is a plan of action to guide capital improvements for the next ten years.”
The study included a lot of preparation, including surveying the community through emails, surveys and focus groups. There were two focus groups held at the main library in Franklin and five at the different county branches.
All of the focus groups concluded with a top-ten list of improvements users would like to see on a system-wide scale. Those improvements include children’s spaces with unique features, an outdoor space such as a playground or reading garden, collaborative spaces for learning and teaching, dedicated meeting spaces and rooms for computers and technology.
Also included were interesting entry ways, adult reading areas for book clubs and discussion groups, places for contemplative study, a retail spot, places to showcase local artists and places to snack and talk.
“One thing we also found in the focus groups is that in almost all cases, library users will often travel to the Brentwood and Spring Hill libraries, too,” Arndt said. “A big reason why is because smaller libraries like in Bethesda aren’t as better equipped.”
The study looked at several county libraries and found the highest priorities of those locations for improvements. In Bethesda, it was found that many users also go to the main library in Franklin, as well as the Spring Hill Library and the Nashville Library on Edmondson Pike. The needs of the Bethesda Library include more programming spaces, more small group spaces, quiet space, expanded seating and general comfort.
The College Grove Library is very small, and the study found that it’s not very visible for users and there is a lack of technology, seating and collectons. In Fairview, connection to Bowie Park was ranked as a high priority, including walking trails and connectivity to nature. There was an emphasis on seating, technology and computers, as well as surprise reading niches.
In Lieper’s Fork, the big priorities are seating and technology, visibility and space. In Nolensville, plans for a larger library are a priority as well as having an overall theme in the library.
For Cool Springs, there is an eLibrary concept in the works that will serve in the spirit of entrepreneurship, business startups and students.
“This would be for people who are often working from home and are looking for a space to connect,” Arndt said. “There’s a good possibility that we’re thinking this would be a smaller space, but would be something that could expand as the need grows.”
The eLibrary concept is just an idea at this point, but would serve as a tech-centric meeting place for library members to work alone or collaboratively.
Balancing the growing population and the need for new materials will be a challenge in planning the growth of county libraries over the next 10 years.
“Collections are the biggest user of space in the library, and understanding that is a big part of this,” Arndt said. “People sometimes find that there are more older materials and not enough new ones. The challenge is weeding out things that are past their prime in collections.”
With a need to replace outdated materials, some newer materials have waiting lists of up to 10 weeks. Currently, the library system’s collection is 25 percent electronic, which is pretty standard, but it’s more expensive to rent an eBook than a regular book because they have continuous costs.
“We’re looking at what’s being checked out, and it’s just like looking at a closet,” Arndt said. “If it hasn’t been used in two years it’s time to chuck it out.”
Balancing the availability of new materials with more library seating, study rooms and collaborative space will be a challenge moving forward. Changing the shelving heights is an issue as well, with most shelving at about 90 inches high.
“For a short person or even an average-height person, it can be a struggle to get a book from the top shelf,” Arndt said. “Making it 66 inches high, there’s more safety security and it’s easier.”
Looking at collections that are available to the library, the entire system would need about 70,000 square foot of shelving. There are only 64,000 square feet in all total facilities combined, including study rooms and restrooms.
“Planning collection growth with the space we have available is going to be a challenge,” Arndt said.
Technology upgrades are also wanted at county libraries. Arndt talked to IT professionals at each library to find their needs, and Williamson County is currently in pretty good condition when it comes to computer labs and technology.
“We are definitely a highly proficient, technologically advanced library system,” she said. “What we’re looking at next is how to increase that.”
Thoughts of a Technology Bar came up where users could bring in a device they didn’t understand and library staff could help.
“It would also be a place you could come to sit and plug in,” Arndt said. “Providing spaces in each of the libraries for that would greatly improve the user experience.”
WiFi in the libraries is also a big issue, and they are looking at infrastructure to see how to improve that feature.
“It’s really an expectation of the community to be able to get online at the library,” Arndt said. “We’re thinking of talking to AT&T or Verizon or someone who can possibly help us.”
Specific improvements include renovating the main library.
“There are things we can improve like the carpet that’s coming up in some areas, all the way to putting the reception desk right when you walk inside,” Arndt said. “Having an overall theme for the main library would be good to have, too, and we’re thinking maybe a music theme.”
The second floor of the main library would include renovations to enclose all of the bay windows into study rooms with movable walls and partitions.
It’s estimated that all improvements county-wide would total more than $48.4 million on the low end and more then $57 million on the high end. County participation is expected to be at about $27 million, with $22 million coming from cities.
“Those numbers, however, are based on today’s numbers,” Arndt said. “The longer we wait the more it will go up.”
Arndt also said the plan is a living document, meaning that it will change as time progresses. As the needs of the community grow, the library system will update the plan to secure funding.
Samantha Hearn reports for Home Page Media Group. She can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @samanthahearn.