November 21, 2013

The Wisconsin-based library consultant exploring the Carroll Public Library's space needs says his firm likely will recommend at least doubling the size of the current facility.

Such a building would fall about in the middle range of total building square feet in comparison to other cities of similar population in Iowa.

"Is a 50-percentile library what you're shooting for?" asked Bill Wilson of Carroll City Council members during a special two-hour session Wednesday night.

At the same time, Wilson, of Himmel & Wilson Library Consultants, said he is calling for major reduction in the collection of books and DVDs and other circulation items between now and the year 2033.

Wilson, whose final report to the city is expected in February, said his early reviews of existing uses and future projections lead him toward a recommendation of a library between 20,000 and 25,000 square feet. The current library is 10,400 square feet.

Wilson's plans take into account informed speculation about likely library use for the next 20 years - with the expectation that a new or improved library will serve the city without major modifications for at least 40 years.

In order to accommodate that future-minded library - and changes in usage patterns - Wilson is calling for library staff to cut the fiscal year 2012 collection from 86,047 items to 48,012 by 2033. He expects, for example, a major decrease in the DVD inventory.

"You get to the point where, really, you have too many books," Wilson said.

Library staff already has been aggressively "weeding" books with lower circulation, according to library director Kelly Fischbach, who said the collection is now down to about 69,000 items.

Wilson said more children's space and seating area for users would be priorities in the space-needs plan.

In coming weeks, 2,000 City of Carroll residents will receive a mailed survey with questions about library service. Wilson expects to hold focus groups as part of the $26,000 analysis that started Oct. 1.

Much of the discussion between Wilson and Carroll's elected officials - as well as an audience of about 20 people at the Farner Government Building - centered on how wide a net to cast when considering the library service area. The city itself is 10,000 population, but through contracts, the library serves Arcadia, Breda, Dedham, Halbur, Lidderdale, Templeton and Willey. About 28 percent of library traffic comes from outside of the city limits, Fischbach said.

The cities with contracts pay the Carroll library a collective total of about $3,600 annually - and the county financing stands at $35,000 a year.

Based on 10,000 population, and using comparisons with other Iowa cities, a 24,200-square-foot library would fall at the 75th percentile. Using a population of 12,200 (which takes into account some area towns and unincorporated area) a goal of hitting the 75th percentile would be a 30,000-square-foot library, according to Wilson's analysis.

Himmel & Wilson, in existence since 1987, has been involved with more than 350 library developments in 43 states, said Wilson, a partner in the firm.

"These are reputable people," Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann said at a meeting several weeks ago. On Wednesday, she followed that up by telling Wilson, "Again, you are the expert."

One resident of rural Carroll, John Brockelsby, the interim provost at Des Moines Area Community College's Carroll campus and a member of the Library Board of Trustees, said the supervisors should increase the county funding for the library.

The annual library budget is $434,000 - so the $35,000 in funding from the county comprises 8 percent of that figure, even though the total usage from outside the city limits is 28 percent, according to Fischbach.

"There's a great disparity there," Brockelsby said.

That considered, Wilson said he has spoken to members of the Board of Supervisors and sees no willingness for increased county participation

Councilman Tom Tait urged elected officials to set a dollar figure for improved library services and work back from that so any plan that emerges has a realistic chance of passing.

"They (Carroll voters) are already looking for deer coming out of the ditches," Tait said.

Carroll voters in August 2011 overwhelmingly turned down a financing referendum for a planned new 32,000-square-foot, $7.4 million library at the former Heider Manufacturing property south of the Union Pacific Railroad lines and west of Main Street, effectively sending back to elected officials and library volunteers a decision on whether to build a new public lending facility, add onto the current one or do nothing at all.

The referendum that would have allowed the city to issue up to $6 million in general-obligation bonds failed, with only 22 percent casting ballots in favor of the public measure. The referendum required a super-majority of 60 percent for passage.

"It probably was too much library for Carroll - at least at that time," Wilson said.