Despite being the second busiest library system in the nation, the number of people using the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County doesn't come close, per square foot, to the number of customers at other branches.
That's according to the director of the library, Kim Fender. Library trustees are considering what to do with all that space.
Citing a number of published media reports about plans for the main branch, county commissioners asked the library's board to talk about its most recent facilities study.
Commission President Todd Portune says there's an idea that the library trustees have already decided to sell the north wing of the main branch. Library Director Kim Fender says that's not true.
"What the board decided to do was to relocate the four public departments that are currently housed in the north building and to either sell or repurpose the north building of the main library. Those options are still open at this time. No decision to sell has been made," Fender says.
The four departments are the Children's Learning Center, MakerSpace, William Hueneke Homework Center and TeenSpot. Fender says they only take up about a quarter of the building. The rest of the space is occupied by administrative offices, support services and collection storage.
Fender says the decision came after a system-wide facilities report that looked at all 40 branches, how they are used, what the branch's needs are, and the costs associated with operations and maintenance.
She says the main branch is significantly underused based on its size. Fender says an industry guideline for library size is one square foot per resident. Commissioner Chris Monzel pointed out 500,000 people would need to live Downtown and in Over-the-Rhine to justify the size of the main branch.
Trustee President Allen Zaring says the building is just too large. "It's twice as large as it needs to be. If your capacity number is half of what it is at other branches, then you shrink the square footage."
He says the library can offer the same services but with half the space through consolidation.
Fender says a feasibility study indicates the four public departments currently in the north wing could be moved to the south wing, with room for operations and growth. The library is looking for a different facility for central services and administrative offices.
She says also on the table is repurposing the north wing. "Some of the things that we've considered would be meeting/training space, a retail/café space. Our Friends (of the Public Library) have a gift shop. An auditorium or other uses."
Zaring says data drives all decisions of the trustees. "We know by circulation, by day, by office, by hour what is going in and out of the door. Predicting how those populations flow in is very difficult. No one could have said 20 years ago that we would have open internet for individuals that could do all research. You can always look in hindsight and say why'd you build it so big? Well, it was a different time."
Fender says the valuation opinion on the property is not a certified appraisal. The library board has hired a firm to make a new valuation. The board has also commissioned 3CDC to conduct a study on possible uses of the north wing. The appraisal is expected at the end of September. The 3CDC study is due in December. Fender says nothing will be decided until early 2018.
Todd Portune urged trustees to have a "robust" conversation with the public before making any decisions.
Board member Betsy LaMacchia says trustees considered closing five branches to save money when state funding was being cut. "That’s when we met with the communities. We had five open hearings and we eventually decided to keep the branches open," she says.
Monzel asked if the library was considering a new levy. LaMacchia says, "It hasn't come up."