By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
A group of community leaders hopes to create a Clinton Public Library geared to best serve residents while reconciling the century-old Carnegie structure's past with the vision for the future.
The steering committee for the library-needs study met for the the first time Friday to learn what changes need to be made to the facility in order to meet their goals.
"This is the time to dream and look at the next 50 years," library planner George Lawson told the nine-member committee during its initial meeting. "You sort of get the bite of the apple every so often. You get to do something to your public library every 50 years maybe, if you're lucky. So, we're going to want to be strategic in our plans and we have to make it work for the community."
Lawson, along with architect Robert Winters of Gere/Dismer Architects and Lauren Stottler with Paragon Commercial Interiors met with the group to discuss what they have already gathered from talking to staff and looking at the building.
The study is expected to take three months to complete and has been funded by the Clinton County Development Association and the city. Once the study is complete, officials will have a plan for improvements that should be made.
"This is an exciting time for public libraries," Lawson said. "There are so many trends we want to be sure we're in touch with and capitalize in our plans so that we do meet those expectations."
Lawson pointed to several areas the library can improve. He identified technology, community partnering and collaborative spaces among the facility's needs. Officials should look at the library's digital capabilities and offerings as well as the amount of hardware such as computers, laptops and e-readers patrons would use, he said.
Lawson emphasized there should be flexible spaces for community members to gather for meetings, and studying and tutoring should also be a focus of the plan. He told committee members once changes like these are made they increase library use by 35 to 50 percent on average.
After explaining what they have learned and making recommendations for the library, Lawson, Winters and Stottler opened the discussion to the steering committee to hear what pieces members feel are critical to maintaining a thriving public library.
"I see this juncture as a time to build a library for the future, not one for the past," Ashford University Campus Director John Ballheim said. "We do it for where the world is going and not where it has been."
Committee members asked for study leaders to focus on a variety of areas of the library, such as where functions of the library are located in the facility and making sure that comfortable seating is available.
Library Director Amy Birtell said she is focusing on creating a more welcoming and comfortable space for library patrons, which includes weeding out the collection and finding replacements for the many large oak tables in the library.
"Some of this, from the historical perspective, if you were saying this 20 years ago, it would have been heresy," Lawson said. "But it makes sense now because of the changes in service patterns, technology and paradigms."
Library upgrades will also entail ADA-compliance updates. including making a grade-level entrance, addressing the mezzanine and adding to the restrooms.
All the changes point to the need for up to a 12,000-square-foot addition to the library, Winters said.
Before the group can determine what, if any, addition is needed, they will develop a plan for improvements. Birtell explained that she envisions the identified changes will be paid for using three outlets: private donors, grants and city funding.
Library Trustee and committee member Rod Tokheim said he would like to see the plans broken down into pieces so they can be done one at a time and funding can be sought for each piece.
Following the meeting, a handful of committee members and the three study leaders travelled to Dubuque to look at the Carnegie-Stout Public Library that was remodeled three years ago.