Books, Bytes and Bricks: The Northfield Public Library

In 1998, while I was on the Northfield Public Library Board, the library celebrated one hundred years of service to the Northfield community. 2010 will mark the centennial of the current library building, which was built with funding from Andrew Carnegie. In 1979, it was determined that the original 1910 building, which covered 4,000 square feet, was inadequate to meet the needs of a growing community and—after a lengthy process that eventually led all the way to the state Supreme Court—the library was expanded in 1985 to its current 12,000 square feet. Now, nearly a quarter century later, the library again needs to expand.

Consider these numbers. In 1985, the library was serving a local population of about 12,000; in 2008, it serves a local community of nearly 20,000 people. The current library collection totals about 90,000 items; for a community the size of Northfield, the collection should total 130,000 items. Currently, Northfield has the second highest circulation (after Rochester, MN) of the libraries in the SELCO regional library system, and does the briskest Interlibrary Loan business—21,000 books borrowed from other libraries in 2007.

This morning, the League of Women Voters and the Library Board sponsored an information session at the library to discuss the library's space needs and to review the options for possible expansion. About 25 people (including two newly-elected City Council members, Betsey Buckheit and Rhonda Pownell) packed into the library meeting room to hear presentations by former board chair Eve Webster, current chair Margit Johnson, and library director Lynne Young.

Lynne conducted a tour of the library, focusing on its many "bright spots" as well as its "tight spots."  Among the prominent tight spots are the meeting room and the heavily-used children's room.  Robert Rohlf, the consultant who studied the library's space needs, recommended expanding the meeting room space by 40% from its current 600 square feet. But the biggest space need—the one most clearly evident on a Saturday morning—is for more space in the children's room. Currently at 650 square feet, it needs to be tripled in size.

Last year, MS&R Architects made preliminary conceptual drawings of a possible 18,000 square foot expansion across Third Street. The City Council was prepared to move toward breaking ground on a library addition in 2010, when the economy began to go into its current nosedive. It remains to be seen what the incoming City Council will do to address the important issue of providing Northfield with an outstanding public library that meets the needs of the twenty-first century.

There's more information on the library's long range plan, including the consultant's report, at the library's long range planning website. Representative Journalist Bonnie Obremski was also present at this morning's meeting.  Stay tuned to LocallyGrown for her story. 

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Thanks, Rob, for an accurate and succinct summary of Saturday's meeting/tour of the public library.

Another interesting factoid: the 1985 library addition was approved in 1983 during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression - 1981 saw record-high interest rates, 1982 was considered the worst recession in 40 years, 1984 logged record federal deficits, and in 1985 money tightened up and markets fell.  

In fact, recessions are not bad times for capital improvements - building materials and labor may be negotiable and will, no doubt, cost less than when the next building boom comes along.  

The Library Board continues to plan for the next addition and looks forward to working with the City Council and the community on that goal.