The recent community survey conducted by Shaker Library through the TRIAD Research Group, had some interesting, as well as unexpected, results. 500 registered voters in the Shaker Heights School District were interviewed by the marketing research firm. The purpose of the survey was to measure the perceived need and support for replacing or renovating existing facilities, per the strategic plan approved in 2012. As a means of staying fiscally strong in a time of diminishing tax dollars, the plan has directed the Library to explore the possibility of a single new facility to replace two aging structures.
Earlier action steps as part of this process included the Facilities Assessment, conducted by HBM Architects in early 2014. That study showed it would cost $5 million over the next 10 years just to bring the 89-year-old Main Library and 55-year-old Bertram Woods Branch up to an acceptable maintenance level—with no regard for modernizing them for 21st century library service.
Later, a Feasibility Study by HBM Architects looked at ways of putting funds into renovation and/or new construction rather than maintenance. It culminated in the World Café last September. These public forums presented a variety of concepts and solicited input from concerned citizens as to modern library design, location possibilities, and cost factors.
Survey respondents skewed slightly female, as does the overall population of Shaker Heights, with family and racial representation similar to the census. The group leaned more heavily to those aged 50 and older, since most voters tend to be in that group, and just over half had lived here more than 20 years.
Positive results were that 85% felt satisfied or very satisfied to live in the community and 93% shared similar feelings about the Library with 71% agreeing a good job was done with available funding. 79% had used the Library in the last year and just over half visited weekly or monthly. 94% said a good public library is important to the quality of life in Shaker Heights.
The real disconnect in public perceptions related to facilities. In general, a clear majority of up to 59% think the library buildings are in adequate or good condition. Only a quarter of the respondents thought that minor repairs might be necessary. A similar majority opposed closing Bertram Woods Branch in favor of a renovated Main Library and/or a new single facility.
Losses in both state funding and local property tax collections did not seem to influence the opinions given with 60% saying that lower income did not make a difference in whether a new facility was needed. 54% said the age of the current structures also was not a factor with 74% wishing to preserve the Main Library as an “historic” building even though it was originally a school.
Some shift of opinion was detected as 42% agreed they might support closing Bertram Woods if it saved $1 million in annual operating costs. Likewise, over one third supported a new Main facility if it could be built while the current library remained open. The most-desired services—in the 80 to 90% range—were accessibility, up-to-date technology, and adequate parking. Space for children/families, meetings, and teens fell in the 55 to 75% range. When asked about more innovative services, such as a drive-up window, reading garden, or café, only “creative learning spaces” reached the 40% level.
According to TRIAD, organizations needing support must convince the public of:
- Importance; and
Shaker Library has done a good job with performance, but it has to show the public the need for facility improvements, devise a plan that is seen as important, and justify the cost that would be necessary to complete the work. Now is the time to continue this dialog with various stakeholders and the community in general!
Luren E. Dickinson, Director