NUGGET PROJECT: 21st century libraries: So much more than books
Aside from the traditional benefits a library provides to a community through books, magazines and special programs, experts agree that libraries of the 21st century are commanding attention as anchors for social interaction, technology and economic development.
And if the $87 million downtown redevelopment project proposed by the Carson Nugget moves forward, proponents will be counting on a new Knowledge and Discovery Library to be that anchor for Carson City.
Libraries have been changing direction for a number of years. According to Jonathan Lerner, in the March-April edition of News and Options many libraries are now referred to as “urban mediaspace,” the magazine editor said.
“The building will include flexible conference and project rooms, multimedia learning labs, performance venues, studios for artists and business startups, a shop, a cafe, a tram station and government-service offices,” Lerner writes.
He says that “the library of the future is also intended as an engine of city-center rejuvenation.”
Proponents of the so-called Nugget project say Nevada’s capital city deserves a Knowledge and Discovery Library that is relevant to today’s clientele, and that the time is right to take advantage of construction costs which are lower than they’ve been in decades.
Knowledge and Discovery Library
Although not everyone is in agreement that a new library is the best of use of financial resources during the economic downturn, Carson City Library Director Sara Jones says there couldn’t be a better time to add a heart to the downtown.
“This is such a win-win because a library belongs to the entire community, and it gives us relevance,” Jones said.
The present library, at 21,532 square feet, serves up to 1,500 people a day.
She said a recent focus group determined that the library needed to be full-service and centrally located.
“You don’t get better than the center of town. We can be the beating heart. Some people are uncertain about the need for it, but studies show its traffic and its people are what is needed for vitality,” Jones said.
“Every city in Nevada is going to need to think outside the box about the models that are troubling, like gaming and tourism,” she said.
Although no plans or designs have been drawn up, Jones believes a number of factors have come together to create an unprecedented opportunity.
“We have a fairly profound philanthropy plan, and costs are the cheapest they’ve been in 10 years. Builders are hungry and willing to work on municipal projects. The window is here now, but it will pass,” she said.
She said the proposed 1/8-cent sales tax increase would pay for most of the $17.5 million cost of a 50,000-square-foot library.
Ideally, she would like 60,000 square feet, but isn’t sure that will be possible.
Jones, who has been managing libraries for 23 years, took the job in Carson City in 2007. She said she has carefully planned so that no more resources than are now used would be needed for operation of a new facility.
More than a library
Jones has visited several libraries throughout the country to see what opportunities can be provided to Carson City residents – things such as automated book checkout, automated book drop sorters, youth spaces and hands-on interactive elements.
“We don’t do as good a job as we should for our kids,” she said. “Kids need hangout space. We’d like 15,000 square feet for youth areas – from story time space to teen areas. And we’d like things to be literature-based and learning-based. They complement each other.”
Jones said she is also very serious about being a business resource center, but that people still like magazines and books along with the newer technology-based resources.
“I’m not sure anything can ever replace picture books. You just can’t replicate a child sitting with Mom or Dad reading to them while they look at beautiful pictures,” she said.
Bryan Murphy of the Seattle-based Berk & Associates said his firm has done benefit studies for the Seattle library as well as San Francisco’s.
“We’re seeing that libraries now are creating a lot of foot traffic for areas,” he said. “But you have to be careful if you’re moving a library from one area to another. You will activate that new area, but it might have no benefit unless you’re bundling it with other things like evening programming.”
The Nugget plan calls for an outdoor entertainment venue as well as public art, retail and office space, a public plaza and transit hub.
To attract tourism traffic to the library specifically, however, Murphy said, the building’s architecture can be a draw – or – attractions like special collections can be added, such as Seattle’s genealogy collection.
“Special collections and architecture bring in people to town to spend tourism dollars, but visitors from neighboring communities might also come in to go out to eat and visit a collection,” he said.
Jones said the present library has only a small corner for local history, a topic she considers very popular in Nevada. She said a new library would afford the opportunity to create a meaningful historical resource space that could draw people into the downtown.
She also said a donor has come forward to offer a “very special Mark Twain collection” if and when space is available. Similar Twain collections are available in only a couple of other places in the country such as Berkeley, Calif., and Mississippi.
A resource center
Though the end result would likely be about the same, Nugget owner Steve Neighbors said there is a slight difference in what Jones sees and how he, as a businessman, views the library.
As the municipal anchor for the entire project, he prefers to focus on how it can be a tool for economic development.
“Sara sees it as a knowledge and discovery center. I see it as a resource to be leveraged for the benefit of the community,” Neighbors said.
“While libraries are traditionally thought of as storehouses for books, I think of what you will need for new technology. Reading rooms I see as conference rooms. I see the educational elements and the support staff needed to help people solve business problems. These will be the libraries of the future,” he said.
Neighbors said business incubators could be located at several locations throughout town, not just within the library.
“Some of the high-end businesses we want to attract will need Class A office space, but some won’t need it. Maybe they’ll just need a warehouse, but they can still come downtown to do their research or patent searches. The high-end incubators will have to help the others, though,” he said.
Neighbors said he also is working on bringing fiber optics to the project area.
“For those who are going to want it, it will all be right there,” he said.
The downtown plaza
A few years before the Nugget stepped forward with its plan, the city had considered trying to buy the federal building which housed Carson City’s post office. Plans for the Roundhouse District involved rehabilitating space for the library in the federal building, said Tammy Westergard, deputy manager for the city’s Office of Business Development.
“We put together the idea as part of a presentation to the federal government’s real estate branch, but they said they were not interested in selling the old post office building,” Westergard said.
“They wanted to keep a federal presence in downtown, but they were also very interested in being a part of the overall vision, and said they would use resources from their ‘good neighbor’ program to allow landscaping, public access to the grounds, public parking, etc., on and around their property,” she said.
A set of conceptual drawings showing how some of the space could be used downtown was prepared for the federal government. It included things such as pocket parks, water features, pedestrian access, street lighting and signage.
“These concepts are kind of fun, and show those things as just ideas,” Westergard said, “but in no way are they a final proposal, just concepts for the purposes of discussion and a starting point. The other thing about these images is that they are not on the Nugget site because we didn’t know about that opportunity at the time. That being said, the elements of this area give a sense of what the Nugget site might kind of feel like.”