Tuesday, April 14, 2015

At the Library: Circulation Problems

This weekend you might have seen the new gateway at the staircase for the Children's section of the Library.

Children's Gateway - Kristin Kuhns concept drawing
via On the Way
It is interesting that the effort and thought given to this internal gateway and connection vastly exceeds that given to the external gateway and connection. (If only we treated our sidewalks and pathways so lovingly!)

As the need for a seismic reinforcement at the Library may be starting to get lost in the talk about the need for a new Police Station, we should be talking more about the Library. In fact, it seems like we are missing a big opportunity to talk about the Library as a foundational civic institution.

No driver observes unmarked crosswalks here, even with signs.
Even with improved connections to the sidewalks,
access across busy roads is difficult
If you're not in a car, external circulation and connections are lousy. There's no marked crosswalk in line with any of the Library's entrances, or even at Oak or Leslie. Marked crosswalks are a block or more away, at Mission and Bellevue. Since the Library is located on the center median of a busy six-lane urban highway, too often a person wanting to cross has to play Frogger and scamper. It is not friendly at all for local children to walk to. Bike access is also difficult. Bike lanes are on the right side of the road, and with the one-way grid, a left hand turn across three lanes of car traffic is always required to access the library.

How about a sidewalk so you don't have to push a stroller
through the driveway?  The lot design forgot people on foot.
At the sidewalk, there is only a place for cars. Families with young children have to walk in the driveway.

We multiply physical barriers to the Library.

Plainly, it was assumed that people would be driving to the Library. Can and should we assume this any more?

The American Institute of Architects and American Library Association earlier this month announced winners in their Library Building Awards.

The 2011 library in Vantucky: Winner!
Miller Hull Architects
The new library in Vancouver is one of them. Slate has a piece with more photos, and it's worth reading to see how new libraries are being done.

Libraries instantiate some of our highest values. Values for knowledge, creativity, generation, truth, beauty, goodness - really, they embody many of the highest values of civilization.

We should want to invest in our libraries and to make them vibrant centers for the best of our civic life - as important banks and markets in the circulation of ideas.

You might say this is a distraction or delay from the primary need for a seismic retrofit of the Civic Center, a significant public building.

But we have external circulation problems with the current site. Simply reinforcing the interior doesn't solve them.

And with electronic media of all kinds, the things and nature of library circulation, too, is changing. As an institution "the Library" is in flux.
It may be that simply investing in a seismic retrofit for the current library configuration will represent doubling-down on a 20th century library system that is already growing obsolete. There are good reasons to think that a less centralized neighborhood branch system would serve Salemites better and help with external circulation and connections. There are also reasons to think that the things a library circulates will continue to evolve and that our central monolith - yes, I still say "charmless concrete bunker" - will pose an increasing mismatch with the services we want a library to provide.

Maybe the Library itself needs a "blue ribbon committee" to consider its future.

In any case, we need to make sure we talk about appropriate safety and provision for library services, however they are configured, and that we honor the Library's role in civic life with appropriate - and beautiful - building design and place-making.


Jim Scheppke said...

Thanks SBOB for this long overdue critique of "external circulation" at SPL. It really is terrible. It's even bad for cars. My wife got rear ended making a left turn onto Leslie St. trying to enter the parking garage. The other entrance off Liberty is even worse. Salem has needed a robust branch library system for a long time. Most cities our size have at least 3-4 branches. The trouble is we can barely afford to operate the main library and "part-time" branch (16 hrs./week) we have in West Salem. Salem spent only $17.70 per capita on our library in 2013-14. The state average according to the State Library is $51.27. Stayton spent $35.08 and Monmouth spent $36.89. You get what you pay for.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

100% agree with you on this one. Let's make some strong suggestions on what to fix and how to accomplish it. Like it is clear that at the entrance on Liberty we need to add a 4 foot wide sidewalk.

Jim Scheppke makes a good point about the support in the budget. My observation is that the Council does not support the concept of the Library. Maybe they do not read that much or are so rich that they can buy whatever they want to read. But there are a lot of people who enjoy the library and want to see improvements.

One Councilor even suggested getting rid of it altogether by making it into the Police station!

With the siesmic upgrades that need to happen we can add some improvements to the design as well.

Specifics help to get the dialog going. Maybe there is an architect out there that can make some preliminary drawings to help create a vision we can support.

Gary said...

Great article, and a great example of a car bias that I've just accepted "as is", but it could and should be much better. This may be because I generally drive to the library.

Karen said...

There is ONE place you can cross Liberty safely, and that's at the footpath that goes under Liberty by the pond behind City Hall. But as you say, it's not anywhere close the Library doors, so walkers would have to go out of their way to use it. It's also not clearly marked, so I wonder how many people know about it?

Even drivers can have a difficult time using the library. During peak times, or when there's a talk in the auditorium, the parking is inadequate. The parking meters used to give you an hour for a quarter; now it's only 20 minutes.

At least the bus still makes a stop there, but that's most convenient for people who live at the south end of town. People coming from other directions have to transfer busses at the transit center. And of course there's no weekend service now.

In a perfect world, we'd have a beautiful library building (like the lovely little one we had before this one, still standing on the corner of State and Winter, now owned by Willamette University), with an extensive collection, free meeting rooms, a fab cafe, abundant parking, on a bus route. But that takes the support of taxpayers, and a city council that makes spending tax money on public services a priority.

Karen said...

Here's a question, too, that I've been pondering: In some parts of Oregon, the libraries are city libraries. I other parts (like Multnomah county and Tillamook county), they're county libraries. Why is that? It seems to me that county systems can better serve the small communities that perhaps can't afford to build their own library, and would allow sharing of collections between libraries. We already have the Chemeketa Regional Library System set up to serve multiple library buildings. Anyone know the history of why Marion and Polk counties have city instead of county libraries?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Oh, that's sweet of you to say, Susann, but I want to abandon the Charmless Concrete Bunker, not fix it!

Here's one set of ideas:
- Let the "Charmless Concrete Bunker" become something else
- Restore and remodel the Belluschi bank on Liberty and Chemeketa to be a smaller downtown branch library (it's just one block from the main transit center)
- Close the existing West Salem Branch and relocate it a new building in a "Neighborhood Center Mixed Use" project at Orchard Heights and Doaks Ferry (it's near schools)
- Open a new branch out south adjacent to the new transit center in the Walmart parking lot (still not very neighborhood-y, but seems like leveraging the transit center is a good idea)
- Open a new branch near Four Corners on the east side of I-5. (If the County were involved, your own Badger Corner area could be a candidate, too!)

Very interesting about the per capita investment level, Jim!

The Liberty undercrossing at Mill Creek is essentially in line with the Bellevue marked crosswalks, and it also is, at least technically, off-limits to people on bike. Salmon Run and the parkade also make the connection to High Street and the path continuation very meander-y and even hidden. As you say, Karen, it's not really part of a network and system. It's a connection appendage - even appendix! - that is pleasant, but in many ways is more ornamental than functional. Even more, as a connection for people in wheelchairs, think about how indirect is a route to the Library from the undercrossing that has no stairs and an acceptable slope!

(The creation of library districts is far from our scope here, and maybe Jim or others with more knowledge can answer your question!)

Anonymous said...

As long-time library user, I heartily concur that there really isn't a way to visit the current CCB library that is predictably safe and easy. This may have the unintentional benefit of weeding out the less-motivated reader (kidding) since it is already very popular and busy!

Seriously, though, I think remodeling that sadly underused bank building at Liberty & Chemeketa would be a *perfect* branch, and I am all about a Four Corners branch, too, because that's my neighborhood.

Sad, isn't it, that the ideas on this blog are so much better than anything that seem to issue from the "authorities"?

Jim Scheppke said...

It's an historical accident that we don't have a Marion County Library. State law did not allow county libraries in any counties except Multnomah Co. until 1913. The Salem Public Library was established as a city library about five years prior to that. It was the only option. A county library would have been a much better option. The Chemeketa Cooperative Library Services, formed in the 1970s, is the next best thing, but not as good as a county library would have been. There was an effort to form a library taxing district that would have had the boundaries of the Salem-Keizer School District in 2004, but the ballot measure failed. This explains why we are stuck with an underfunded city library for now.