April 1, 2001 - From the April, 2001 issue

Commission Chair & City Librarian Opine On The Successes Of L.A. Library Facilities Efforts

As Angelenos we have been groomed to be enamored with the scandals and general malaise of our civic entities. However, every once and again we are reminded that "Something is [not] rotten in the state of Denmark." Susan Kent, the L.A. City Librarian, and David Lehrer, Chair of the Board of Library Commissioners, offer us an enlightening tale of library construction and renovation, professsing that building libraries through community outreach and strong fiscal management not only helps to expand facilities, but does so on-time and under-budget.

David Lehrer

Let's begin with a quick synopsis of the overall performance of the 1998 City of L.A. Library Bond Program. Can you elaborate on what were the needs that drove this bond measure? And is the effort on-time and on-budget?

Susan Kent

In 1997 we looked at our long-range library plan and measured the City's future facility needs against our current building standards for library service. Out of that came Proposition DD-a 1998 ballot measure allocating $178.3 million for library construction. With the money allocated from Prop. DD and a few smaller sources of revenue, we were able to start 32 library construction and renovation projects.

The first of those projects to be completed was an expansion of a parking lot at our San Pedro regional library. And just recently we finished the construction of the new Studio City branch funded from the 1989 bond. We're particularly proud of that project because we originally only had funds for land acquisition. But with careful fiscal management, we were able to fund the entire project out of savings from the 1989 bond.

David Lehrer

The Library Board and staff take their fiduciary obligations very seriously. All of our projects are tracked very carefully and they're all on or ahead of schedule and on or under budget.

David, what are some of the projects that you as a Board member are proudest of?

David Lehrer

The Los Feliz library is close to my heart because I live in the neighborhood. It's a beautiful, very well utilized library that the community is very pleased with. Community buy-in is one aspect of the library expansion process that is critical to success of libraries and an integral part of the process.

The number of community meetings that have been held during this expansion and renovation is truly extraordinary, over 120 meetings have been convened to make sure that these projects move forward with the community's support and input. Because of that interaction, the final product really becomes a structure designed, sited and constructed that is responsive to the community, with a general community consensus.

Your challenge is similar to that of the LAUSD's effort to build schools throughout this dense metropolis. Could either of you comment on how the Library system is able at siting and building facilities when LAUSD has been unable. What's the difference? What have you learned from them? And what should they learn from you?

David Lehrer

There's a very thoughtful effort within the public library system to assess the community's desires and consider all the various ideas that are offered with regard to siting, construction and the like. So all the information we gather-whether it is regarding specific collections or building design-is taken into consideration and evaluated.

But, it's really not an exact comparison because virtually no one has anything bad to say about libraries. Libraries are seen as a plus for a community. School facilities inevitably carry a lot of perceived problems with them into a neighborhood.

As I understand it, the Library and the City manage their construction projects, where school district projects are really driven by a state review and funding program. Is that a difference? Have you found it easier to coordinate and manage this endeavor than perhaps the school district is able to do?

Susan Kent

We do manage our own projects. And, in cooperation with the Board of Public Works, expect and welcome public participation and scrutiny. That might be a little different from the way LAUSD functions, but as I understand it, the School District has many more requirements than we do.

But these differing structures haven't kept us from attempting to partner. We've met with the School District early on in the school and library siting process and talked about potential common locations. And happily, we may end up having a neighborhood library and a neighborhood school on the same block in El Sereno. But we're moving at a much faster pace and by the time they're beginning to select sites we'll be in the design phase and have already chosen our sites.

I feel great empathy for the School District because I know the difficulties we've had in finding land in this dense metropolis. We're only looking for 1/3 or 1/2 acre sites, I can only imagine how difficult it is to find a multiple acre site.

In our last issue of TPR, we interviewed Secretary of State and Consumer Services Agency Aileen Adams who expressed her passion to alter the way that state buildings were constructed so that they were not so reliant on energy. Have you had any conversations along those same lines? Has the library system embarked on a sustainable development

Susan Kent

The library has made a commitment to incorporate sustainability features into its facilities. We're currently receiving bids on a branch in the Valley that will be a "Platinum level" sustainable building.

But I have to tell you that while the initial projections for this "Platinum level" of sustainability were a moderate 5-percent increase in construction costs, we've recently learned that it will be more along the lines of a 30-percent increase. So that Platinum level of sustainability is very costly. But, that's not stopping us from investigating the idea.

We're also working with the DWP on a number of solar efficiency and sustainability design guidelines that will help with sustainable energy issues.

David Lehrer

While they may not be specifically calling it "sustainability," virtually every one of the designs that come before the Board gives serious consideration to sunlight exposure, clerestory lighting and heat absorption-factors which may not have contributed to the overall design 15-20 years ago.


The same ideas that we've been talking about are currently being debated at the state level as possible components of last year's $350 million statewide library bond. It seems as though there is a debate raging between State Treasurer Angelides and State Librarian Starr as to whether or not there should be these type of Smart Growth principles built into the implementation mechanism of this library bond. If approved, will Smart Growth and sustainable development stipulations end up helping funnel more money to L.A. Libraries? Or will these stipulations, as Kevin says, hinder the construction of additional libraries in California?

Susan Kent

I don't know why having sustainability features in a building would hurt any area of the state. It's an issue of using of using recyclable products, using energy efficiency, etc. But regardless, the state library bond is still not in the final regulation stage and from what I understand, they don't expect to issue any final regulations before next fall.

What's causing the delay? And how will that effect Los Angeles?

Susan Kent

One of the requirements of the state bond is that localities must provide 35-percent of the needed amount to be able to receive matching funds. But a project is only eligible for matching funds if it is in the schematic design stage, once you've entered the design development phase, it's no longer eligible. And the way L.A.'s projects are moving, most of our libraries will be past the schematic phase by the time this funding is available. We're following it very closely, but it's proceeding at a pace much slower then we would've liked to see.

Speaking of delays, there were reports late last year that a number of the local construction projects were having problems finding contractors. Has the Library system or the Commission seen any increase in the number of applications?

Susan Kent

We've started issuing bids for one project at a time and we're getting multiple bidders. In fact, it was recorded at our last Commission meeting that we're doing quite well attracting contractors.

One of the reasons that we were initially having problems getting bidders was a simple unfamiliarity with the process. To combat that, the Board of Public Works recently held a meeting for potential contractors to make sure that when the bids are submitted, all the requirements are met and that all our concerns are dealt with so that we can continue to create good libraries.

What's a good library? How do you establish the need for a new library? And what constitutes a good project?

David Lehrer

Well, we have quantifiable criteria with regard to population density when siting a new library or determining when an existing library no longer adequately serves a community and merits expansion. The true hallmark of a good and successful library really boils down to utilization by the community which means that the collection matches their needs and interests and the activities at the library serve to foster a sense of community.

Libraries are now becoming much more than merely a hushed environment where one can check out books, they have become hubs of community activity. And they're not just for kids or senior citizens who can access them during day-time hours, we're working to keep them open longer so that working people can access them in the evenings and on weekends. They've really become wonderful community centers where kids, adults and senior citizens can enjoy themselves while accessing the world of books and information.

How do you marry current data with the projection that there will be another 5.5 million people in this basin in 20 years? How can you deal with this proposed flood of demand?

Susan Kent

We really like to construct libraries when there are approximately 50,000 people in nearby neighborhoods. But that means that there will be areas in the City that may not have direct access to library service. In those cases, we really need to use technology and deliver information directly to people's homes through our website.

But to echo David's point, we really do need to continue to make sure our buildings are exciting, welcoming, open appropriate hours and have the resources and staff to provide help. That's currently being accomplished because the Mayor and City Council are funding us in an expansion mode, so we hope that will continue.

You made some reference to the role of the library changing with technology. Give us a sense of what an L.A. library in 2010 should and will look like. Do they need to be standalone buildings?

Susan Kent

Our essential business has always been providing information. So I don't see much difference in the library of 2010 and today. They'll have a lot of space for books, audio visual materials, computer terminals, community meeting rooms, training centers and a lot services for young children and teenagers.

All of these ideas grow directly out of the articulated vision of our constituents-non-static, energetic, exciting and appealing places.

David Lehrer

While Susan talked about the physical structure of the library of the future, let me touch on the virtual. The internet access afforded by L.A.P.L. is quite extraordinary. We recently were told a story of a visiting Russian businessman who took out an L.A.P.L. library card because he can access the library website from Moscow and gain access to databases that would be exorbitantly expensive any other way.

I don't think people appreciate that part of the L.A. Library. It's really helping us evolve into more than four walls at a physical site and a set of books, we're really becoming an information and knowledge center for L.A. that can be accessed from anywhere.


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