Aspects of Library Facility Development
The first logical step in facility development is the preparation of a needs assessment study. While many building projects will advance without a formal document of this sort, it is the best way to achieve sound planning results and to convince public authorities and the community at large that objective measurements and standards should form the basis of any subsequent proposal. Following are the key elements of such a study:
Defining the service area. The basis of the study is the area which the library is responsible for serving, or, if there is no existing library, the boundaries of the area that a new facility ought to serve. In some instances this determination will be obvious, as in the case of a single library to serve a small town or city. (Even here, however, there will often be some overlapping with a neighboring city or unincorporated area.) In the case of a branch library in a city or county system, its service area must rationally be defined within the larger unit. If there does not exist an overall master plan for library service in the larger jurisdiction, it should be developed before any further local planning gets underway, and this would be the first order of business in the needs assessment.
Demographic data. The next major element in a needs assessment is all available data on the current population of the service area, and trends and projections for at least twenty years into the future. The data must include such details of local demographics as age, educational attainment, occupational category, and ethnic background.
Library usage data. For a thorough study there cannot be too much information on who uses the current library, where they live and work, how and when they get to the library, and what specific resources, services, and amenities they utilize. Not many libraries will have such comprehensive data ready to hand, and the needs assessment process may involve some additional data collecting and surveying. Where there is no current library, it will be necessary to extrapolate from data available in comparable communities.
Service standards. From time to time the American Library Association (ALA) has promulgated guidelines and standards for public library service. Many state library agencies and statewide library associations have issued them also. Some large library systems have developed their own sets of standards, usually based upon these broader ones, modified by local experience. With these in hand, and adjusting for demographic and usage data, the needs assessment analysis will evaluate existing library resources and services, and identify any inadequacies. It will then project requirements into the future, usually in a twenty-year timeframe.
Space formulas. The ultimate determinants of space needs for a new or expanded facility will be 1) a detailed Building Program which specifies the type and amount of materials to be housed, seating of various kinds, and all other services, activities, and amenities which are to be accommodated, with the types and amount of space needed for each; and 2) a schematic design for the building, prepared by an architect, based upon the building program, showing all of these elements in satisfactorily functional relationships and scaled to size. In the meantime, one can obtain a rough estimate of space requirements by applying one of several formulas which have been tested over time in similar situations.
PROJECT COST ESTIMATING
The final cost of a building project cannot be determined until the project is completed and closed out, with all furniture and equipment procured and even moving costs established. Prior to that time, the architectural firm and their cost estimator will produce budget figures in every stage of the design process. But what to do until the architects come? (And how will one tell if their figures are reasonable?) An experienced consultant will be able to provide cost estimates at an early stage: when only the size of the building may have been established, or when there may be a building program, but no architectural studies, and this can be crucial in determining whether adequate funding exists to justify proceeding further.
Some elements of the project may already have been achieved. A site, for example, may be owned by the agency or already purchased. A site survey may have been made, possibly in connection with the purchase. Other elements of the project may be allocated to funds other than the capital project fund with which the board, the director, or the architects are concerned. For example, the city or county public works department may absorb some site development costs, utility connection fees, etc. Even so, good management practice requires the project manager to be aware of total costs. Following are the major cost elements of a project:
Site acquisition. Of all building project costs, the price of a site is the most variable, not only from city to city, but within a given city . If site selection has not been accomplished, it may be impossible to estimate this aspect of the project budget. (Price, of course, is a major factor in evaluating building sites, but by no means the only or even the chief such factor.) In addition to the actual purchase price, site acquisition costs can include appraisals; negotiations; condemnation proceedings if required; title search, title insurance, and title transfer; environmental impact reports if required; and relocation costs for existing residents or businesses if required.
Site development. While normally included in the general construction contract, the cost of site development deserves separate consideration. Size for size, some sites require considerably more work than others, due to topographic or geologic problems (which can also affect construction costs); the presence of any structures requiring demolition; installation of sidewalks, curbs, and gutters, and even street widening in some cases; and the availability of, or cost of bringing in, utility connections.
Building construction contract. Before working drawings and detailed specifications are available, building construction costs must be estimated on a gross square foot basis, using comparable costs for similar projects. Costs vary with the type of construction, including materials and complexity of design. They vary from locality to locality, depending upon local construction wages and material costs. And they vary from season to season, depending upon the amount of local construction underway. The validity of preliminary construction costs depends upon the accuracy of the comparable data employed. Published costs for library buildings are useless unless one can determine what they include and whether there are any special conditions in the projects--information which is not usually reported.
Professional fees. A library building consultant's fee will vary with the firm chosen and also with the amount of involvement in the total project. There are no longer, as there once were, generally accepted fee schedules for architects and other design professionals, and they can vary considerably as a percent of construction costs. This fee will always include the required services of engineering consultants--structural, electrical, and mechanical--and usually of a landscape architect. Beyond these, the architects' fee will vary depending upon their total responsibilities: the firm may do its own interior designing, or may employ a separate firm; the architects may supervise actual construction, or the owner may retain a separate construction management firm; architects or interior designers sometimes have responsibility for selecting furniture, in other cases library staff will make the choices (and will almost always select specialized library equipment). Finally, there are usually also fees for site surveys and soil tests.
Furniture & equipment. The best way to estimate the cost of new furniture and equipment is on an item by item basis, with at least general specifications in mind, and using manufacturers' prices with appropriate quantity and other discount factors. At a early stage, however a consultant can estimate the total furniture and equipment budget as a percent of construction cost, based upon prior experience. (Most library shelving, and such built-in cabinetry as circulation and reference desks, are usually included in the construction contract itself.)
Architectural enrichment. Communities across the nation have recognized the importance of enhancing public buildings with appropriate works of art, such as murals or sculpture. Some cities have established policies of spending a small, fixed percent of construction cost--1 or 2%--for architectural enrichment.
Other costs. These can vary in nature and amount from the cost of advertising for construction bids to the cost of moving into the completed structure. Any administrative costs chargeable to the project, whether from the library or other departmental budgets, would fall here. Servicing and retiring any debt incurred in raising funds for the project can be a substantial amount over time, although not usually included in actual project costs.
EVALUATING BUILDING SITES
The mantra "location, location, location" applies fully as much to libraries as it does to gas stations, restaurants, and homes. A central site, convenient for most people to reach, will result in the greatest volume of use. This in turn reduces operating costs, which, over the lifetime of a building, will amount to many times the cost of construction. Following are the major considerations in selecting a site:
Proximity. The library should be located where there is a concentration of stores and busy offices. Studies show that 70-80% of visits to libraries combine shopping and other activities. If they have to make special trips, fewer people will use the library and its unit costs will be higher than they should be.
Pedestrian traffic. In a concentration of stores and busy offices, there will be considerable pedestrian traffic. This will be conducive to library use and will provide a degree of safety to those, including women and children, entering and leaving the library. However, offices and businesses which close evenings or weekends--periods of high library usage--do not provide this element of security.
Visibility and vehicular accessibility. In order to serve the entire population base, the library must be clearly visible to those seeking it, and readily reached from major arterials. The site should be adjacent to, and directly accessible from, at least one such arterial.
Parking. While the library site itself must be large enough to accommodate parking contiguous to the building, the availability of additional parking that can be shared is highly desirable. This is particularly true where there are adjacent businesses or offices, since people, once parked, will patronize both the library and other facilities.
Bus service. Once the library opens, the site must be served by one or more bus lines that can bring people from all parts of the service area. An adjacent transfer point would be highly advantageous.
Bike paths. The site should be reachable by bike paths or trails, preferably ones that connect with paths throughout the service area.
Cost. This is obviously a major consideration. However, the cost of construction is the major factor to be considered, and this will not vary with location. In order to obtain the greatest return on the capital investment, a heavy-use site is essential.
Size. The site must be large enough to accommodate the building and contiguous parking, plus appropriate set-backs and landscaping. The Needs Assessment will have established the approximate size of the building. Unless the size exceeds 25-30,000 sq. ft., it should consist of a single level.
Configuration. A well-proportioned, rectangular site is preferable to an irregular or elongated one, which would restrict the functional design of the library.
Topography. A flat site is best, with just enough slope for proper drainage. Anything else could complicate the design and add materially to the cost.
Soil conditions. The soil should be capable of bearing the weight of the building without excessive fill and compaction, which would add to the cost.
Utilities. The availability at the site of sewer, water, power, telephone, and TV cable will avoid additional costs to bring in these essential services. The availability of fiber-optic telephone cable is highly desirable for telecommunication purposes in the future if not immediately.
DEVELOPING A BUILDING PROGRAM
Before any design work begins--indeed, before architects are selected--it is essential that there be a detailed building program. This is a document that sets forth the purpose and scope of the project; specifies all of the functions that are to occur and how they relate to each other; quantifies all library material collections; lists every item of furniture and equipment, and its location by functional area of the building; and describes every mechanical, electrical, and electronic system to be incorporated into the structure. Laying all of this out in a written document insures that every facet of the library is thought through and accommodated. The document serves as a prescription for the architects, and can be used to determine whether their designs and specifications meet the project requirements.
In a few large libraries where there is sufficient prior experience with this process, staff is able to create the building program. In most cases, however, it is a library building consultant who puts it together, in close consultation with staff. Whoever prepares the document must know enough about libraries to seek out or produce the necessary information, and enough about building design to convey it in a format that is clear and useful to the architects. Following are the key elements that a good program should contain:
Local officials. A list of officials of the library and of the local jurisdiction who have some degree of responsibility for the project, with an indication of what approvals they must give and in what order. This will assist the architects to submit material in an orderly manner, without confusion or undue delay.
Time schedule. If there is a timeline for the project, it should be spelled out in the program.
Historical background. In order to give perspective to the new or modified building, especially for the design professionals who may not know the community, a brief history of the library and any prior structures it has occupied can be very enlightening.
Mission statements, goals, objectives. Inclusion of brief policy statements that currently govern or guide the library can provide focus and purpose to the project. A building is only a means to an end.
Plan of service. If a current plan of service for the library does did not already exist, it will have been formulated by the needs assessment study.
Project location. If there is a current site that is to be utilized for an expanded facility or a replacement, or if a new site has been identified, it should be carefully described with whatever details are available.
Library collections. While these must later be broken down by the functional areas in which they will be housed, it is important to set forth the overall composition and size of the various book and nonbook collections which the new or enlarged facility must hold. Gross totals will normally be found in the Plan of Service or Needs Assessment, although breakdowns by adult, young adult, and juvenile, and by reference and circulating material, are usually established at this point. It is important to deal here and elsewhere in the program with on-shelf collections and capacities, making appropriate allowances for materials that will be in circulation at any given time.
Public seating capacities. As with material collections, seating of various types must later be assigned to each functional area, but total figures are important considerations in establishing the parameters of the building.
General design precepts. To the extent that they can be formulated at this stage, principles that are to govern the design should be clearly stated. These might include certain considerations of appearance; overall functional concerns; basic mechanical and electrical requirements; etc.
Building-wide Systems. Those systems--mechanical, electrical, electronic, graphic, or other--that are to be widely distributed in the building should be called out, with as much specificity as possible at this stage.
Functional areas. This is the heart of the building program: a description of each functional area, beginning with its purpose and function, and including all library materials, shelving, furniture and equipment to be accommodated. A functional area is not necessarily--or usually--a room by itself (the fewer separate rooms in a public library the better), but an area which can be distinguished by function, type of contents, and sometimes type of user, from others portions of the library. One can not be too specific in describing the contents of each area, giving bulk and even dimensions where possible. Of critical importance is the floor and wall treatment of each area, and its specific lighting requirements. Only with such information will the architects be able properly to plan the spaces, without guessing.
Exterior considerations. There will be a number of features at the exterior of the library that will be important to specify, ranging from parking requirements to bookdrops. Here, again, the more specificity the program provides the better the architects can do their job.
Tables, charts, diagrams. Every bit of information and direction possible should be presented, in the most useful formats, to assist the designers, who, it must always be kept in mind, will not be librarians. Tables of measurements for various types of library materials would be invaluable. A diagrammatic presentation of the relationship of each area to the others can be extremely helpful. Charts summarizing quantities of material or seating are very useful.
SELECTING AN ARCHITECT
No single decision is more important in achieving a successful building project than the choice of an architectural firm. The agency responsible for the project, the "owner" should cast as wide a net as possible to ensure that the best available professionals are included. It is also usually advisable to involve a broad spectrum of the community in the selection process, through a standing board or an ad hoc committee, so that the architects selected will enjoy some degree public confidence and acceptance.
Based upon a carefully crafted RFP, which the library consultant can assist in developing, each interested individual and firm should submit a proposal, along with a brochure containing appropriate supplementary material. These submittals can then be used to identify architects who appear to be especially well qualified for the project. Following are some major considerations:
At a minimum, an architect must hold a valid state license. Membership in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is not essential, but demonstrates a degree of professional commitment.
An older, experienced firm has advantages over a young architect who is near the beginning of a career, but the latter's very youth, enthusiasm, and new ideas are often major assets.
In theory, an architect who has shown outstanding ability with one building type should be equally able to do so with any other another. In practice, however, libraries have proven to be such complex design problems that, for a project larger than 5-24 ,000 sq. ft., prior experience with libraries seems essential.
Ability to perform the required services within the time schedule is vital, and can be demonstrated by a record of earlier work.
Ability to keep the project within the budget is equally important, and can also best be shown by prior accomplishments.
Location of the firm's office is less important than the above factors. Local firms have the advantage of being more easily accessible, and will have a greater understanding of the community. This should not overshadow firms headquartered elsewhere, however, which may be better qualified to do the work.
The engineering consultants employed by the architects will have a major impact upon the success of a project. It is important, therefore, to establish their qualifications as well.
Other considerations include architectural education, design awards received, professional participation, production capability, stability of the firm, and its present workload.
The next step in the selection process is to interview the most promising firms. Each should be allowed time to make a presentation. After that, questions should be posed that are designed, among other things, to bring out the firm's experience, and that of its engineering consultants; the way it would organize the work; and how it would relate to various local officials, library staff, and library consultant. The consultant can provide a list of such questions if requested.
It is not enough for an architect to have designed libraries; they must be successful buildings. The only way to tell is for some members, at least, of the selecting body to visit one or more completed projects . The consultant can assist in evaluating the project, and local staff are always willing to discuss what works well and what may not. Such visits will also show the architects' styles and esthetic sensibilities.
Once a firm is selected, a fee is negotiated and a contract prepared. It is essential that the latter contain clear statements of the services to be provided and how the fee relates to each of them. The consultant can be of assistance here. It is helpful to use AIA contract forms, have stood the test of time.
COLLABORATING ON THE BUILDING DESIGN
No matter how carefully prepared and detailed the building program, the task of translating it into a fully functional schematic design is very difficult. The library consultant can be of considerable assistance to the architects during this process by interpreting concepts, adding knowledge of library operations, and critiquing draft drawings. The best library designs, in fact, are the product of close collaboration between architects and consultant , where the results are a fusion of their thoughts.
For further background, see Why are public libraries so difficult to design? and What are the most common errors in library design?
REVIEWING DRAWINGS AND SPECIFICATIONS
As the architects and engineers develop detailed drawings and specifications, they make thousands of decisions about materials and design. Many of these will directly impact the operation or maintenance of the library. It has proven very useful for the library consultant to review these documents as they progress in order to assure conformity with the building program, catch potential problems, and make suggestions for improvements.
Some of the matters which the consultant can provide particular expertise include library shelving; the provision of power and cabling for computers and other electronic equipment; lighting levels needed in different activity areas; the design of circulation and reference desks; and appropriate signage.
PREPARING FURNITURE & EQUIPMENT SPECIFICATIONS
The selection of furniture for a public library is far more than a matter of "interior design." The pieces must be as functional as the building itself, and as durable as possible. A library consultant understands the purpose of each item and the conditions under which it must perform. He will know its proper dimensions and have experience with the various materials that are available. He will be familiar with the major lines of furniture, and what has proven to be successful in similar circumstances.
The library staff will be knowledgeable about those items of specialized equipment with which they have been working. The consultant can help to identify equipment that is new or new to the staff. For both furniture and equipment, the consultant is able to write specifications that will assure quality of design and construction, and result in procuring exactly what is desired
© David Sabsay