By JEFFRY BUTLER Aurora Public Library March 4, 2012 10:22PM
Updated: March 6, 2012 2:23AM
Citizens of Aurora, I would like to invite you into the discussion of improvements to the entire Aurora Public Library system. We will have two Sunday afternoon public forums at 2 p.m. March 11 and 18 in the Main Library, 1 E. Benton St. If you have specific questions you want answered before the meeting, please email the Board of Directors at firstname.lastname@example.org, call the library business office at 630-264-4106, or contact me personally at Jeffryabutler@gmail.com.
The new library proposal has been in the development phase for the past two years and is a comprehensive improvement plan for the entire Aurora Public Library system. Library representatives have met with every alderman in one-on-one and/or small group meetings, several ward committees, school superintendents from Districts 129, 131, 204, 308 and IMSA, and the presidents of Aurora University and Waubonsee Community College. We also have met with the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce, several service groups and other stakeholders in Aurora. We have benchmarked other recently built libraries to gain insight into the successes and challenges they encountered along the way.
The board assembled a citizen’s advisory group and conducted public forums to discuss and shape the new library. We also have formed a technology committee to help guide the direction for library technology that supports the entire community. We have received and responded to many of the issues raised during our discussions with these groups. In all of these meetings, we have been challenged with three specific items:
We need to make improvements that will benefit the entire city.
We need to support collaboration among the various groups in the city.
We need to address a wide variety of technology needs for our citizens.
Our focus over the past few months has been less about the physical building and more about collaboration. This is an ongoing journey that will continue through construction and hopefully strengthen in the years to come. True collaboration happens when groups work together openly and honestly. We are reaching out to make that happen.
Our library has the opportunity to be a tremendous asset for the city and all of our citizens. Libraries in the 21st century are evolving to be centers to share ideas and information and provide the opportunity for all citizens to connect with worldwide resources and with other people. These connections help level the learning field for all citizens, young and old.
Our plans are to build a new downtown main facility of 92,000 square feet with an additional 5,000 square feet of unfinished space for future growth that will be added if it fits within our budget.
This is roughly double the size of the existing main facility that was built more than 100 years ago and last remodeled 45 years ago. Our existing facility is extremely crowded, does not conform to current building standards and is very inefficient. We explored remodeling the current facility and found it would be very expensive and would not have allowed us to increase the size of the public spaces.
The new facility will be the service center for the entire system, supporting the computer infrastructure, automated book handling system, book ordering and processing department and administrative staff. It also will have greatly improved public areas including an open and inviting children’s area with enhanced focus on early literacy initiatives, a large space for teens, a computer lab that is twice the size of the current lab, 80 public access computers, free wireless access throughout, a meeting room for more than 100 people, 20 enclosed study spaces, a quiet reading room, a drive-through material pickup/drop off window and a community gathering area/coffee shop accessible from the exterior of the library. Most importantly, the new building will be designed to easily adapt to changes in needs in future years to serve the community well for generations.
Technical Services (book ordering and processing) and Outreach Services (bookmobile and homebound) have been housed in a rented offsite facility of approximately 6,000 square feet for the last 10 years. This move was made to free up space at the crowded main library. Our plans include bringing these departments back to the main library to save operating expenses and improve our efficiency and service to the public.
Parking at the new main library will increase from 55 metered spaces to 200 unmetered spaces with easy access to the main entrance.
Improvements to the overall system will include state-of-the-art material handling technology and processes to fill book and material requests more rapidly. Specific benefits to the Eola Road Branch will include a family computer lab and a coffee shop. West Branch improvements will include small group study spaces. Additionally, we plan to open two smaller satellite facilities to serve areas that are far removed from our existing branches. Specific locations will be identified with a formal assessment and input from our citizens groups. In addition, we plan to develop an increased presence in public school buildings through connection to the city fiber optic network and library kiosks.
We often have been asked, “Why do this now, in troubled economic times?” The first reason is that we are seeing increased need in the community for a wide variety of library services including job search help, computer use, informative programs and family entertainment. We also see that the cost to borrow money is at a historic low and the cost to build is extremely competitive. The library board is committed to keeping jobs local as much as possible.
I ask you to please join us at one of the library forums or contact us. We welcome the opportunity to talk with you or your community group. We can review the details of the new library system and get your feedback. With support and participation of the community, we can make all our locations community centers that share ideas and information.
Jeffry Butler has been an Aurora resident for more than 25 years. Currently president of the Aurora Public Library Board, he has served on the board for 18 years.