Thursday, February 28, 2008

Peoria Public Libraries

An article written by the Journal Star Editorial Board today reads "Strong libraries are a core public service, as important to communities as good roads, effective schools and adequate police protection." The word "adequate" caught my attention. The editors are right; we should have adequate libraries. We do have more than adequate public libraries in Peoria. So adequate that in fact the library board is planning to close the Southside Library, the one that they told the City Council in 2001 and 2002 that this library was "bursting at the seams". Now they say it is "underutilized" and will be closed. The new library built recently to serve RiverWest is so underutilized that it is also going to be closed.

Lakeview library is so underutilized, it has over 1000 linear feet of empty bookshelves. Lakeview is the only library that has self checkout machines that never were dependable and have been out of service going on four months. Peoria Public Library is probably the only city of this size in the United States that does not have self checkout service. Why is that important? Self checkout machines relieve employees to do dozens of other activities and allows the patron to more quickly exit the building.

Another approximately 1000 feet of linear shelf space is unused or seldom used reference books stored on valuable shelf space at all libraries. All reference books are on computer of which every library has an "adequate" number.

Of the 10,000 people who voted for the $35,000,000 library expansion, many told me they hadn't set foot in a library for years but the $100,000 spent on promoting the referendum convinced them there was a "great" need. Statistics indicate another large perentage of "yes" voters were NOT property taxpayers, from whom this $35 million will be extracted.

In "selling" this $35 million project the sellers did not mention the relatively new and underutilized Peoria Heights Library and the newly expanded Dunlap Library; both libraries open to all people who live anywhere and has a free Peoria Public library card.

As I did in 2001, I request the City Council to NOT dump $35,000,000 more spending when we already have more than "adequate" libraries in our commuity. Do not dump more taxes on the overtaxed property payers in the City of Peoria.

Most of the City Council members tell me that they seldom visit a public library. Only one took up my offer to visit any library and see for themselves. Eric Turner agreed by email. But he has never set a date. I suspect the $20,000 donated by the Caterpillar Foundation to conduct the survey may have some influence on Councilman Turner's vote. Too bad. My offer is still open.

"Keeping up with the Jones" has already robbed millions of dollars from taxpayers who could have spent that money with entities that PAY TAXES instead of giving it the enhancement spenders who say these expenditures will cause the city to grow when actually it has shrunk in population, quadrupled in square miles causing service costs to sky rocket and in return Peoria is being assessed record high property taxes.

Many of us are saying "Wake up Peoria" before you drive more and more people and businesses out of Peoria and bring back the slogan of yesteryear's of "last one out of Peoria, turn off the light". We are going to be left with tax collecting bodies building financial disasters like the RiverPlex and the $32 million dollar zoo and taxpaying entities are locating elsewhere.

Two major houses of learning, Barnes and Noble and Borders have a far larger choice of books to read and you can set in comfortable chairs, drink coffee and relax most all hours, seven days a week. Both are struggling financially. Note their falling stock prices. Most important, they offer a great literary service to this community and they both pay taxes, not collect and spend taxes.

Repeat of the RiverPlex that has never been able to even meet the principal and interest on their bonds. This expansion is all about more unsupervised computers in competition with those who sell computers, computer training and service.

The library should get it's own house in order before asking for more bricks and mortar (no working self-check-out machines, good grief) to please a few big egos.


JFDoering said...

The Himmel and Wilson Strategic Plan looks like the consultants told the Library Board what they wanted to hear and sell the public, not what they needed to hear. There is certainly nothing close to cutting edge in this pablum of a report. There are lots of pretty pictures and rehashing of history, but nothing beyond endorsement of stale ideas that have floated around the area for years.

Points for consideration:

1. Why does the main branch have to be downtown? Who are we kidding that it is a "downtown destination?" The report tells us what we already know, that most of the existing users and potential users are not downtown, they are in the residential areas of the City. Yes, the City is pushing for more residents downtown, but that is a pipe dream based on hopes from an Ozzie and Harriet era, not reality.

2. The “flagship” needs to be where the users are, and in a convenient location with access to public transportation and lots of free, safe, open parking. It has to be someplace any father would not worry about his high school daughter going to work on an assignment after school, knowing it may be dark when she leaves to go home for supper. Do you want your daughter walking out of the main library at 5:30 in December when it is dark outside to her car at some metered spot, or to a bus stop? Maybe that doesn’t bother you. Maybe it should.

3. The availability of the former “big box” stores in the Pioneer Park area gives the Library a chance to go past the meager remodeling of the main library. Instead, it can configure the inside of a building to meet today’s needs without concrete impediments to change in five years, ten years, or twenty years. With complete respect for their civic dedication, I doubt the Library Board can see what the needs will be in ten years as the electronic revolution in information availability continues unabated at warp speed. Will the next generation of Internet-technology challenge the library establishment as the existing Internet has? Certainly! Does there need to be a flexible plan to address that aggressively and progressively? Yes.

4. Could this public facility link up with a private entity to provide the relaxing environment of commercial bookstores? Food, beverage, and a place to relax combined with library services seems to be a natural fit. The facilities in the Pioneer Park area may the the space for such a mutual-benefit partnership.

5. The guts of the service the library needs to provide to the City of Peoria public may be roughly divided into these areas:
a. The “south end”
b. The west and center bluff
c. The east bluff and areas below the bluff north of Spaulding
d. The area north of Forest Hill and south of Northmoor
e. The area north of Northmoor and east of Allen Road
f. The area west of Allen Road.
These areas are arbitrary for the purpose of discussion. How does the library system serve them now, and how will it serve them better with a northern branch? Where does the main library fit into these areas? It doesn’t. Get rid of it and serve the areas where the need is. Radical? Yes. Practical? Possibly. If downtown Peoria is to be the growing hub the some say it is, the peddling that building to get funds to put the services where they are needed should not be too difficult.

John Doering
Dunlap, IL

Brad Carter said...

Yes, I too attended the library propaganda meeting. I thought we were to have a choice in where the new library went. However, any idiot in the room could tell the old K's Merchandise building has been predetermined. They said it was going to be a 3-4 year plan after the city council passes the bonding authority April 22. A lot will change in that time. THey have no consideration to the fact they want to take a potential tax revenue source and turn it into a tax burden.

Anonymous said...

According to a curiosity attender at this meeting, if everyone that was a library employee and spouse, board member and spouse, people who live outside the taxing district, media, consultants, architects and project engineers, etc., would have stood up, only about 25 people would have remained seated.

When taxpaying residents in the city realize they are going to pay for this "me too grab" in increases in their already too high 2009 property taxes assessments, then I believe they will start paying more attention.

However, if few show up at the April City Council Meeting to challenge the need for $35 million in new taxes then it can't be said later that they didn't realize what was happening.