Education Department Regulations (8 NYCRR) § 90.2(a)(8) requires the board to "maintain a facility which meets community needs." While various formulas exist for determining the appropriate size of a library, the final determination of adequacy rests in the hands of the trustees. Square footage is only one factor in deciding whether a library meets the community's expectations. Location, internal arrangement, accessibility for all patrons, environmental quality, and intangibles such as ambiance all contribute to the overall adequacy of a library building.
According to the guidelines developed by the New York State Library and the Public Library System Directors Organization: “Various publications provide helpful "rules of thumb" or "standards" for the number of seats, shelving, or meeting room facilities needed by communities of varying sizes. … Building experts would first ask the library director and board, "What are the goals and service plans of the Library?" General services planning precedes facilities planning because it defines the users, services, and programs of the library. Once these plans are defined, the board, director and others can better decide on space needs, layout, and technical specifications...” (from Helpful Information for Meeting Standard #8: Maintaining a Facility to Meet Community Needs).
Proper maintenance of the existing library is essential if the board is to fulfill its responsibilities to the community. Preventative maintenance for major systems, such as the heating/ventilation/air conditioning system (HVAC), can extend their life and prevent catastrophic or unexpected failure.
The library should be a pleasant and safe place to work and visit. It must be accessible to everyone in the community. This requires more than just a wheelchair ramp and ADA compliant bathrooms. Every aspect of the library’s service program should be evaluated to determine if it is accessible to persons with physical or mental disabilities. (Please refer to the previous chapter on Access to Library Services.)
The facility is a major part of the customer experience at the library and should be evaluated as part of the library’s commitment to quality customer service.
Safety and security are paramount in any public facility. Libraries are no exception. Every effort must be made to create a safe and secure environment for the staff and public. Holding regular fire, “Code Adam” and similar drills is not just a best practice; it is essential for the maintenance of a safe facility.
In fulfilling the board's charge to create a sustainable library designed to respond to future community needs, you have a significant opportunity to demonstrate your stewardship of the organization through facility decisions. These are decisions likely to impact the community for generations to come. Through passage of library policy that institutionalizes green cleaning procedures to improve indoor air quality for library workers and patrons, all the way up to ensuring a major expansion project or new construction of a library facility is done with an eye towards sustainable design, the library board’s decisions tell the story of what kind of organization you are. Libraries interested in a systematic way to operate their facility in a more sustainable way may be interested in the New York Library Association’s Sustainable Library Certification Program.
Sometimes the library can only meet community needs by adding to, or reconstructing, existing space or building an entirely new facility. This will lead to a complex and extensive planning process that may require the board to seek the services of a consultant or library system staff. Construction plans should always be developed in the context of the library's mission and plan of service. The board should review service needs, explore alternatives, estimate costs, and set priorities; all before deciding on a specific building plan to pursue. Community involvement in the planning process is crucial to its success.
Major library construction projects should pursue the maximum achievable levels of sustainable design. Very early in project planning, to ensure high return on investment, library boards should prioritize creating healthy, energy efficient facilities that respect the use of our natural resources. Seeking certification for your project through proven programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program, is one of the most visible, responsible ways to show the community the library board is committed to good stewardship. Similar certification programs include Green Globes, the Living Building Challenge and Passive House.
Trustees must understand that the planning and implementation process for library construction will require a major effort on the part of the board, the library director and the staff; including many meetings, reports, and reviews. Travel to inspect other library buildings and consultation with library system staff should be part of this process. Planning will take many months and delays should be expected.
Nonetheless, in spite of all the hard work, a building program may not meet with the approval of the community and necessary funding may not be readily available. In such cases the board must stay focused on the need to provide quality library service to the community and appropriate facilities for the library. Active planning for the future must continue.
Renovation or reconstruction of existing space carries an additional set of challenges. The library may have to move to temporary facilities, which means relocating staff and materials. If the library remains open for business during construction, trustees should be sensitive to the added stress this will place on the director, staff and the library’s patrons. Temporary service policies or exceptions to existing policies may be required. Excellent communication and an unusual degree of flexibility will be essential.