Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Update: Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets

This piece originated in the Summer of 2017, when I met with some stakeholders in Southwest DC and they told me that DC Public Library was embarking on the process of renovating the Southwest Branch. So I wrote a memo outlining best practice library branch planning, in the context of my belief that libraries should serve as "nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets."

Later I published it as a blog entry in March 2018.

Related blog entries afterwards include "National Libraries Week and a libraries update" and a cultural facilities specific entry concerning what I call "Transformational Projects Action Planning" ("Downtown Edmonton cultural facilities development as an example of "Transformational Projects Action Planning"").

In 2018, DCPL began planning to renovate the Lamond-Riggs Branch, and has embarked upon a broader Facilities Master Plan planning process.
DC Public Library Public Facilities Master Planning process, Woodridge Library, March 2nd, 2019

They had focus groups in December (although I didn't get to participate), and are undergoing a round of public meetings which started last week and include a couple meetings this coming week.

In the context of that planning process and submitting comments, I feel the need to update this piece in terms of some of the other best practices I've come across since, or forgot to include in the original piece, so that they are in a unified document.


While there is no question that the DC branch library replacement construction program has created wonderful libraries across the city, at the end of the day they are still libraries but with newer facilities and separately, an expanded array of programming.

Unfortunately there was never a planning process undertaken at the outset aimed at rearticulating neighborhood libraries to serve multiple goals and roles as key anchors within neighborhoods and as nodes within an integrated network of civic assets more generally, and within a sub-network of cultural facilities specifically.

I came across other initiatives which extend these ideas along the lines I have imagined:

-- Civic Commons Reimagining Our Cities’ Public Assets, Reimagining the Civic Commons
-- Civic Infrastructure: A Model for Civic Asset Reinvestment, William Penn Foundation
-- Re-envisioning Branch Libraries, Architectural League of New York

Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth

I have used the concept of the "public realm as an interconnected system" by David Barth as a way to illustrate the idea.
DC has not embraced the concept of a "civic commons" or ensuring that the greatest possible civic return is received from such investments overall and from each one individually.

The replacement planning process for the Southwest Branch of the DC Public Library could result in much more than a rebuilt library, it can expand the “program” of a typical library by creating a multifunction “civic” mixed use cultural and civic public facility.

This matters especially because the building that will be constructed is expected to serve the community for many generations.

What is proposed at the end of this document is the creation of a multifaceted public library and community center, serving as the premier civic asset and community hub and anchor in Southwest DC, complementing the commercial and residential districts and other civic and cultural facilities (Waterfront Metrorail Station, DC Government buildings on 4th Street SW, cultural facilities such as Arena Stage, and the Washington Channel waterfront, and public parks, recreation centers, and schools.

The concept is based on three ideas. First, libraries are the most widely used civic facilities in a community.

Second, libraries tend to be the primary “cultural asset” within neighborhoods and sub-districts of a city, whether or not this function is planned for purposively.

Third, one of the biggest resources that libraries (and recreation-community centers) have, at least potentially, is “flexible space” which can be programmed in a wide variety of ways to serve various community needs—but typically this space is not organized and managed in ways that allow it to be flexibly used by different types of groups and at times when normally such facilities would be closed.

It turns out Dayton, Ohio is doing a form of this, but they aren't articulating what they are doing in terms of a network of cultural facilities, rather they focus on the role of libraries as "community centers."

NextCity reports that Dayton has been doing expansive library creation for a few years now ("Dayton is making the library a must visit destination").  It's a shame that they haven't received the recognition for this that is deserved, because in the US context, it is exceptional.  From the article:
But the most progressive thing about Dayton — the thing that puts its coastal, blue-state brethren to shame — is its public library system, one of the most dynamic in the country.

In an era of widespread internet access, cheap digital books and federal disinvestment, cities across America are attempting to reinvent their aging library systems. Dayton is at the forefront of this movement. The Dayton Metro Library is leading the city’s cultural transformation, putting $1 million dollars into local art, and using the largest bond issue in state history to radically change the form and function of its library spaces. It is customizing branches for the specific communities they serve, implementing new architecture that can adapt to future technologies, and designing programming that integrates the library into the daily routines of city life. ...

David Schnee, a principal at Group 4, says they modeled concepts for the Dayton Metro Library system on Dokk1, a Danish library that calls itself a “citizens’ house” and functions as a “center for knowledge and culture.” DOKK1 includes a playground, a café, a “creative room” for young children, the city archives, a nursing room (though nursing is permitted throughout the facility), a game room for board games, citizen support services, and media in multiple languages — in addition to library standbys like a quarter of a million books.

Dayton’s system is now “one of the first American interpretations of the concept of having the library be an active community center,” says Schnee.
Referencing examples of multifaceted facilities elsewhere can infuse the process of planning such a facility in DC/Southwest DC, and allow us to rethink the planning process for neighborhood libraries generally, and specifically in terms of creating a neighborhood-centric program for the rebuilt library branch in Southwest.

Below are a number of relevant examples.  Another resource for best practices is the European website, Model Programme for Public Libraries.

Extraordinary “mixed use” libraries

Idea Store, London. The Tower Hamlets borough is one of the most impoverished in London. The borough offered continuing education and workforce development programming with limited success and even though they enjoyed wide support, the libraries were old and underutilized.

After an extensive planning process, with a special focus on reaching people who didn’t use the library, the borough came up with a new concept aimed at improving library and education services by combining them into one facility, supporting urban revitalization goals by locating the new facilities in transit-accessible commercial districts, and incorporating “involvement” principles drawn from successful retail stores as a way to engage audiences.

Even though the Idea Store and some of DC’s rebuilt neighborhood libraries shared the same architect—David Adjaye, also a designer of the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture—it is clear that the success of the Idea Store is not design-forward architecture as much as it is the rearticulated, innovative, integrated, and expanded library program, which was developed by the library system, not the architect.  [Future Proofing the Library: The Idea Store,” 2015, Cities of Migration, “When is the Library not a library? When it is the Idea Store,” 2004, Guardian]

Combined library-cultural centers, Montreal. In Montreal, cultural centers have been added to a number of borough library centers, bringing an array of facilities that wouldn’t normally be included within a library program such as auditoriums and theaters, and a range of meeting rooms capable of meeting specialized needs, such as for music. The combined library/cultural center becomes the primary “cultural facility” for the borough district, but also is part of a network of similar “library” facilities across the city, and simultaneously within the larger network of cultural facilities within the city and metropolitan area.

Booksellers Alley on a Friday night.

Separately, the provincial library, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, in Montreal functions as a node in a network of central libraries for the Province, but also serving the central library function for Montreal. Besides being open til 10 pm many nights of the week, on the alley side of the building they have rented stalls to booksellers, creating “Booksellers Alley.”

The Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Cultural Centre houses the Benny Library, an exhibition hall, as well as an indoor terrace and an outdoor yard that’s ideal for open-air cultural events. The 200-seat performance hall was designed for dance, but offers multidisciplinary programming for all age groups.

The Montreal North Maison culturelle et communautaire has a performance hall with 234 seats; a rehearsal hall, a room for exhibitions; a concourse decorated with a mural by Isabelle Haveur; 16 rooms for community activities, including a recording studio and a community radio station; a day care center, and a small restaurant managed by Les Fourchettes de l'Espoir, a non-profit organization whose mission is to help and support the disadvantaged.

In keeping with its location near the University of Montreal, the Intercultural Library in Côte-des-Neiges specializes in “foreign languages,” and besides holdings in a range of languages, offers language classes, and cross-cultural programming including “world music.”

The Pointe-aux-Trembles Library houses the Centre multimédia de l'est de Montréal, a social enterprise that aims to expand access to multimedia technologies for artist and creative as well as office and business use.

Salt Lake City Library System. While serving the entire city and more comparable to DC’s Martin Luther King Library, the Salt Lake City Central Library is perhaps the nation’s most intriguing example of rearticulating libraries as cultural facilities—as “mixed use” knowledge and cultural facilities. The old library building remains on the site, across from the new library, and is used as a museum.

The arcade of the Salt Lake City Central Library.

While modeled after an even larger library designed by the same architect for Vancouver, BC, the design and program for the Salt Lake Library was created through a robust planning process that engaged both librarians and other professionals alongside residents and other stakeholders.

The Salt Lake central library building has inside and outside sections. The library is on “the inside” and is organized into two sections joined by a soaring arcade, with traditional library functions on the largest side of the building. Besides many floors of materials, study tables, wifi access, and a green roof with public access, the collections side of the building includes exhibit space, an art gallery, a small café, and a specialized children’s collection.

On the other side of the arcade, the upper floors are lined by tables, chairs, and study carrels, connected to the main building by walkways. On the ground floor, like “Booksellers Alley” on the back of Montreal's central library, “storefronts” house the Friends of the Library Bookstore, a craft and art gallery, café, an ATM and a rack of transit information, and one storefront bay designed to serve community uses on a temporary basis, for example, during a public master planning process, the City Department of Planning held an open studio and “office hours” in the space. A 300 seat auditorium is located below ground.  Many of the floors include “fireplaces,” adding an additional placemaking element.

Located in the “outside” portion of the building, which is an extension of the “arcade” side of the interior building, are the local public radio station and the Community Writing Center of the Salt Lake Community College. The radio station has an audio loop connection to the auditorium, so that meetings can be recorded for subsequent broadcast or broadcasted live.

The Library system is spreading these concepts to the neighborhood branches.  The Marmalade Branch of the SLC Library System includes a coffee shop and a meeting room that can be used outside of library hours because it has a separate entrance. The room has retractable stadium seating that can seat 150 people. The branch also has a small maker space including digital and analog equipment such as a sewing machine. 

Patrons can consume coffee they've purchased on-site throughout the library branch.  This branch gets more adults than other branches, and library staff opine this might be because it is the only branch library with an on-site coffee shop.

Separately, library card holders can also "check out" sewing machines and other equipment. 

All the branch libraries have a children's area with a toy section and a "slop sink."  The large meeting rooms in each branch library have a piano. 

The Glendale Branch has a maker space for the exclusive use of teens.

The Boston Athenaeum. While a membership rather than a public library, besides having an extensive book collection including rare books, there is an art collection with more than 100,000 items, a gallery space, and an extensive public program of lectures, readings, concerts and other events.

San Jose has a single facility serving as the central library and the library for San Jose State University, although each is a distinct library, there are differences in hours, but city residents have access to and can check out the more specialized collection of the university library.  (Case Study, Penn; Economies of scale in the library world: the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Library in San Jose, California).

The central library in Worcester, UK is a joint venture of the University of Worcester and the Worcester County Council and also incorporates an innovative program, according to the case study on the Model Programme website.

In West Hollywood, California, the city and the County library system constructed a co-located facility that includes, a 32,000 s.f. library branch, coffee shop, bookstore, a children's theater, and the city's Council Chambers ("West Hollywood Library's new edition," Los Angeles Times), along with a 400 space parking garage and an expansion of the abutting city park.

Library public space and park connections

This section is added with some previous items consolidated here, based on failures of DCPL to connect the Francis Gregory and Woodridge Library branches to adjacent park spaces or to otherwise fail to reprogram underutilized adjacent public space.
Woodridge Branch, DC Public Library
Woodridge Library.

Woodridge Branch, DC Public Library

While the new West End Library branch is connected to a cafe, and the cafe has an outdoor patio, there isn't an extension of this patio for the library, which could be used by patrons not purchasing food or drink.  There is an interior courtyard surrounded by the library, but mostly library patrons don't have access to this, and there is no door connecting the library's large meeting room to the courtyard, which it abuts. 

Dokk1/Denmark. "Dokk1 in Aarhus, Denmark, is the best new public library of 2016," Slate.

I especially like how the outside "stairs" for the building have been designed to also serve as outdoor amphitheatre seating.

Space for Change, in Danish and English, describes the library in more detail.

Salt Lake County Viridian Events Center.  As part of the library branch in West Jordan, Utah, the Salt Lake County Library System has created an multi-function events center, a facility that can be combined as one room or divided into two or three rooms, with a maximum capacity of 700 people.  Outside there is a separate amphitheater for outdoor events with a capacity of 250 people.

The Park City Central Library abuts "Library Field."  The side of the library building abutting the Green has a cafe and outside patio, and the building opens to and connects the spaces ("Park City protects Library Field, ‘our Central Park’," Park Record).
Park City Library, Utah

Pavement Park at the South Park Library in Seattle.  DC's Woodridge Library abuts a large park, but it is incredible that the library wasn't designed to integrate into the park at all, nor was the street space outside the library entrance reconfigured to be more of a public square fronting the building.

As a counter example, part of the street in front of the South Park Library Branch in the Seattle Public Library was reconfigured as a "pavement park" extending the civic qualities of the public space outside of the library ("New South Park pavement park celebrates Day of the Dead," Curbed Seattle).
Pavement Park in front of the South Park Library Branch, Seattle
Pavement Park in front of the South Park Library Branch, Seattle.  Seattle DOT photo.

Another example of library-relevant placemaking creativity is Bell Street Park in Seattle, which was created by converting one lane of a two-lane street into park-type space, including this section in front of the former Belltown Community Center. The Center, in a leased facility, closed last year when the lease expired.
Bell Street Park, Seattle, abutting the Belltown Community Center

Bryant Park Reading Room, NYCBryant Park abuts the 42nd Street “branch” of the New York City Public Library System, which serves as the main library for NYPL system.

Bryant Park is managed separately by a nonprofit conservancy.  One of their programs for the park is what they call “The Reading Room,” outfitted with tables, chairs, books and periodicals.

The Reading Room is actively programmed with poetry and other readings, book clubs, author talks, children's activities, etc.

San Diego neighborhood branch libraries often include “lanai”-like space—enclosed outdoor patio space that is controlled and secure by being accessible from the inside of the library. (Similar spaces have been developed at Salt Lake's newer branch libraries.)  Note that I used the term "lanai" but really the concept is derived from interior courtyards typical of housing in Mexico especially.

As mentioned above, Salt Lake Central Library has a green roof which is open to the public.  The Library is situated on Library Square, which includes green and open space and a public plaza, and is across the street from the City-County Hall.  The old library remains on the site, and is used as a museum featuring traveling exhibitions.
Aerial, Library Square, Salt Lake City

The San Diego Central Library doesn't have a green roof, but does make its roof accessible to the public, which also includes meeting room facilities.

The back of West Hollywood City Hall and Library connects to a public park and instead of a green roof, there is a public pool and tennis courts ("Rios Clementi Hale and LPA Win West Hollywood Park Commission," Architect's Newspaper) as shown in the renderings below.

Rendering, West Hollywood Library and City Park

Rendering, West Hollywood Library and City Park

Mixed use civic facilities including a library

Pounds Centre/Hampshire County, UK. Includes a library, two spaces specifically designed and programmed for teens, athletic and fitness facilities, a publicly-accessible office for the local housing authority, a café which sources food locally and has catering operations, a small publicly-accessible laundry, day care, a dental clinic, multiple counseling programs, and offices for some community organizations, and wide ranging programming. Rooms can also be rented for private and public events.

Montgomery County, Maryland. The Rockville Library includes space for non-library government offices and the Center for Visual Arts, which has galleries, studio spaces, meeting rooms, and educational programs for all ages and camps for youth. Rockville is the seat of the county government and the library has an expanded special collection of government related materials. The Silver Spring Library includes space for the Levine School of Music and a small cafe.

In the summer, branches in the county's conurbations, including Silver Spring and Bethesda and the City of Rockville, are open until 9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Shirlington Library/Arlington County, Virginia. The Shirlington Library was rebuilt to include space for the Signature Theatre, which has two black box theaters; the largest can accommodate 275-350 people. In addition to the theaters, the facility has meeting and rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms and showers, kitchens, and scene, prop, and costume shops.

ImaginOn, Charlotte-Mecklenberg County, North Carolina is a joint venture with the Children's Theatre of Charlotte.  It includes two theaters, separate library sections for children and teens, and an audio-visual studio for teen use.

Drumbrae Library/West Edinburgh, Scotland. Besides the library, the facility has adult learning rooms, community meeting rooms, computers, a public housing office, an office for the local government including the community policing team, a health information center, a careers and higher education center, public computers, and an adult day care center.

Athenaeum/Goucher College, Baltimore County, Maryland. The building combines the college’s main library and student activities center. Besides the campus library, the building has spaces for performances, lectures, and other events, an art gallery, the campus center for community service and multicultural affairs, fitness facilities, meeting and study spaces, and a café.

Ballard Library and Neighborhood Service Center, Seattle. The Neighborhood Service Center section of the building includes office services for the city government, passport application services, Seattle Public Utilities, community courts, and meeting facilities.

Hollywood Library and apartments, Portland. The four-story building houses the library branch and a café on the ground floor, with 47 mixed-income apartments on the upper stories.

The Takoma Park City Hall includes a Community/Recreation Center and the city library is separate but part of this complex.

Salt Lake County has a number of co-located facilities, such as the Millcreek Community Center, which includes a Library, Senior Center, and Recreation Center, abutted by a small public park.  The facility includes public meeting rooms separate from the library, and the Cafe Evergreen, a small cafe open during the day during breakfast and lunch, where the food service function also supports the senior meals program and on-site eating and congregating.  The facility was first created decades ago, as a recreation center.

Enhanced media functions

Besides offering access to computers, many libraries offer expanded IT/computer related programming and increasingly, makerspaces ("Social Innovation, Democracy and Makerspaces," Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex).  DCPL has maker spaces of various types, including a small music studio at the Shepherd Park Library.

In London, the former Willesden Green Library in London rented space to a used bookstore.

In Orange County, California, the library branch in San Juan Capistrano has a nice "Friends of the Library" bookstore. It is marketed by the city in tourism and other materials as the city's only bookstore.

As mentioned above, the Salt Lake City Central Library includes studios for one of the city's NPR stations and an audio connection between the auditorium and the station.  A branch library in the Montreal system includes a community radio station.

Civic engagement media and programming.  Other special collections that I think should be adopted by more libraries include Dallas' Urban Information Center, on cities and municipal government, so that citizens can be more knowledgeable on civic matters and issues.  Although such a collection would be best augmented with programming.

Local history collections.  Many libraries, including DC's Georgetown branch Peabody Room, have rooms-collections devoted to local and community history.  (The main library Washingtoniana collection does this for the entire city.)  Libraries could have dedicated exhibit space for traveling exhibits.

For example, as part of the Anacostia Community Museum's "Right to the City" exhibit, they are developing community-specific exhibits to be displayed at DCPL branches in Anacostia, Mt. Pleasant, Shaw, Southwest, and Woodridge.

When the Cincinnati Museum Center was closed for renovation, they delivered various community outreach and exhibit programs which they will continue to offer even though the museum has been reopened ("During Union Terminal renovation, the Museum Center took its programs out to the public: And now that approach will become permanent, WCPO-TV).

Other specialized media collections.  Library systems like the New York Public Library have various special collections located at particular libraries, but the special collection serves a city-wide/knowledge function beyond service to the immediate area.  One example is the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 

The Montgomery County Library system has a special health and medicine collection at the Wheaton branch.  In DC, given the proximity of the West End Library to the GWU Hospital, perhaps such a special collection could have been developed at that branch, etc.

In this vein there is the "Library as Incubator" project/website which aims to link artists and libraries and foster the use of the space in libraries to incubate art production and arts initiatives.

This is a good illustration of the importance of having flexible spaces that support cultural production in a more systematic way through a more creative utilization of libraries as community and cultural spaces.

And somewhere I saw a mention of an arts book circulating library in association with an arts center. There is also a performing arts library branch of the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center.  (Except for its out of the way location, creating such a library at the Kennedy Center would be logical.)

Yes, most public library systems participate in inter-library loan programs but it is difficult to find more specialized publications in arts or urbanism etc.  Outside of university libraries it is very difficult to find such publications.  Public libraries should do more acquisition and development of such special collections.

The old theater housing BRIC House includes a separate facility for the Urban Glass studios.

Brooklyn Information and Culture/BRIC House. BRIC is a nonprofit media and arts organization serving Brooklyn, including running the borough's community access cable television service. It supports a wide variety of cultural programming across the borough, including free concerts at Prospect Park, a calendar of events, etc.

In 2013, it opened an arts center called BRIC House in a previously vacant theater, showing films and presenting lectures and readings, complemented by a gallery and a flexible performance space. BRIC has a studio residency program for working artists, and offers classes in photography and video production. BRIC House’s upper stories are home to a separate arts organization, the Urban Glass studios and education program in artistic glass production.

As part of its operation of Brooklyn’s Public Access Cable Television channel, BRIC partners with the Brooklyn Library system, and offers classes in media production at a number of branches. The Coney Island branch library is outfitted with a television studio on the second floor, run by BRIC, and residents who have been trained through BRIC classes can rent/check out video production equipment ("Library unveils new television studio at Coney branch," Courier Life).

Image from Boston Magazine.

WGBH--TV and radio studio in the Boston Central Library.  When I was doing research for my comments on the DC Cultural Plan (ugh, not very good), I found out that Boston's public broadcasting group has opened a studio on the ground floor of the library there ("WGBH studio and cafe to open at Boston Public Library," Boston Globe).

For example, DC's Office of Cable Television should reposition more like NYC's television operations, with studios at one or more library branches, and in a city like DC, we should aim for the creation of a tv network operating something like the Book TV programming of CSPAN.

Collecting and making available local music. In another entry, I mentioned how the digital tv and radio studio at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati is used for a program that features bands coming to town to play in local venues. The Seattle Public Library has a program, called Playback, to collect and offer to library patrons access to locally produced music ("Seattle musicians- submit your music to Seattle Public Library's collection," My Wallingford).  So does Salt Lake City Library, through the HUM -- "Hear Utah Music" -- initiative.

Note that DCPL does have a "punk music archive," but I don't know if it includes actual music, or if it is just dedicated to printed material, like flyers. Also a couple years ago, the American University Museum had an exhibit on DC's foray into New Wave in the 1980s, "Twisted Teenage Plot."

The Chicago Public Library has a teen recording studio called YOUmedia.  The renovation plans for the South Shore Branch include a YouMedia studio and recording facility ("South Shore Library Set To Get $2.5 Million Upgrade With New Recording Studio And More," Block Club Chicago).

The Helsinki (Finland) Library System has two especially innovative programs. Library 10, a special library focused on music and culture, started as a program located in the city's multi-functional  CableFactory arts center, but has since been relocated to a different site. In addition to its book and media collection, the library provides space and equipment for the production and presentation of independently-produced work.

Meetingpoint is an experimental library without books, which provides technical assistance and guidance for digital communications and living in a digitally-connected society. Meetingpoint also develops digital communications platforms for organizations, with a focus on civic participation. 

Both programs have extended hours, open as early as 8am and close as late as 10pm. Both programs are seen as models for helping to develop new ways of developing programs, organizing space, and serving patrons for the new Central Library.

(Apparently, the Helsinki Library system also manages the libraries in the public schools.)

Many libraries have specialized 'zine collections ("Do Zines Belong in OC's Public Libraries?," OC Weekly).

Other media specific but non-library programs that should be reviewed for ideas include the Podcast Garage in Boston ("The Podcast Garage celebrates a year," Boston Globe), The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland; and the Chicago Poetry Center.
WBUR-FM, Boston University, CitySpace studios
CitySpace Studios building, WBUR-FM, Boston University.

WBUR-FM CitySpace studios.  Another model, but by a university not a library, is the expansion of Boston University's WBUR-FM.  The station is an NPR affiliate and after receiving a $5 million donation, is building new studios, called Cityspace,  Studios will continue to produce daily broadcasts as well as live radio shows, political debates, and performances.  According to the University ("WBUR Breaks Ground on New Cultural Venue CitySpace," BU Today):
WBUR general manager Charlie Kravetz says the 7,500-square-foot space, which will have at least 240 seats and is expected to serve an estimated 30,000 people a year, will focus on discourse. “CitySpace is the logical extension of WBUR’s role in Boston,” says Kravetz. “WBUR is no longer just a radio station. It’s a multiplatform media organization that reaches people on air, online, on demand, and on stage.”

CitySpace, ... will produce up to 200 programs a year, including debates, interviews, readings, theatrical performances, and family programming, with all events streamed live and archived for on-demand access. ... Floor-to-ceiling glass windows will allow passersby to watch the events inside, and the station plans to install benches and speakers outside the building.
WBUR-FM, Boston University, CitySpace studio

Other mixed use civic facilities without libraries

Silver Spring Civic Building, Montgomery County, Maryland. Besides housing offices for the County Government, the building has meeting rooms for use by public and private groups, a gallery/exhibit space, and a large multi-use plaza for outdoor events. A portion of the outdoor plaza is dedicated to winter ice skating. The largest room can accommodate 720 people.

Thomas Jefferson Community Center, Arlington County, Virginia. The community center is combined with a middle school, providing facilities that are more robust than either a community center or junior high school could offer on its own. These additional facilities include an indoor track/exposition hall, fitness facilities, art studios, and a theater-auditorium which supports a resident children’s theatre company.

University of Michigan Student Unions. These facilities include space allocated on a year-to-year basis to student organizations of all types, complemented by permanent offices for the student government, campus student-run activities organization, and the university student housing cooperative.

Western District Police Station, Baltimore. Community-serving facilities have been added to a newly renovated police station, including a community meeting room, a health and wellness clinic, a wifi hotspot, landscaped garden-open space, and public art.

Culture centers/programs

Chicago Cultural Center. The former Central Library has been repurposed as a cultural center serving Downtown Chicago, with an auditorium, meeting and exhibit spaces, and offices for the City Department of Cultural Affairs and the Chicago Children’s Choir. The first floor also houses the city’s primary tourism visitor center (Choose Chicago). More than 1,000 events are presented annually.

Creative Alliance at the Patterson, Baltimore. Located in the Highlandtown Arts District, the Creative Alliance has restored the old Patterson Theater which continues on as a venue for movies, performing arts, and presentations. Two art galleries present more than 20 shows annually, and is complemented by workshops, an artist in residence program, a community outreach program, and after school arts programs serving more than 2,000 students each year.

Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus, Ward 7, Washington, DC. This facility has cultural, health, recreation, and education elements and space for organizations ("On Mississippi Ave. SE, a place of light and learning" and "New $34 million community center building coming to Southeast," Washington Post).

92nd Street Y, New York City.  The organization serves more than 300,000 people each year through early education, fitness, and cultural programs, including music and dance performances, a widely publicized lecture series, readings, and films, arts education including studios and workshop spaces, adult education, as well as early childhood and parental education, and a senior center.

Other “mixed use” cultural facilities with social enterprise dimensions

Mestizo Coffeehouse and Gallery, Salt Lake City. This nonprofit coffeehouse and art gallery also serves as a presentation space, and offers free use of meeting spaces to community nonprofits.

Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore, San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles.  Chicano author Luis J. Rodriguez and his wife Trini added a bookstore to their cafe and later created a companion cultural center ("A bookstore that's like a favorite aunt," Los Angeles Times).  Over time the initiatives were combined and converted into a nonprofit organization.

Programs include workshops in art, dance, theater, writing, healing, and indigenous studies, the annual Concerned Words Festival, a publishing operation, Dos Manos, a music label, a resident dance company, and a youth empowerment program.

An event at Red Emma's, a key anchor in Baltimore's Station North Arts District.

Red Emma’s Bookstore, Baltimore. The bookstore is organized as a business cooperative, and a café is managed and owned separately but shares the space. They are connected by a large open space set up with tables and chairs. This section serves as café, free-form “sitting space”—no purchase required, and meeting room, reconfigured for lectures, author talks, and community meetings.

Busboys and Poets restaurants, Washington, DC. These restaurants typically have a meeting space suitable for lectures and private meetings, restaurant space, coffee house/bar spaces, and small bookstores, run by the area bookstore, Politics and Prose.

Regional chapter facilities for the American Institute of Architects. AIA chapters in large cities typically have multiuse facilities with exhibit halls, meeting rooms for lectures and presentations, an architecture and design bookstore, as well as chapter offices, sometimes a library, etc.

Food-related social enterprises that could be models for food service in libraries

Skyline Bistro, Worcester Technical High School, Worcester, Massachusetts. This restaurant is open to the public and is run by students in the culinary and hospitality technical education programs.

Colors Restaurant, Restaurant Opportunities Center. The restaurant workers labor and training organization runs restaurants in New York City and Detroit that serve as training sites for people being trained in culinary, bartending, and fine dining/table waiting programs.

Forge City Works in Hartford, Connecticut operates the cafe, branded as "The Kitchen," in the Central Library, as part of its culinary training programs.

Skid Row Coffee is a social enterprise workforce development program operating a cafe in the Los Angeles Central Library.

The Marmalade branch of the Salt Lake City Library has an independently managed coffee shop on the ground floor.  (Although the facility is underpowered, making it difficult to be successful, and the street facing facade of the building should have been designed to be permeable to better support the cafe.

Proposed program for a Southwest DC “Neighborhood Library and Cultural Center”

Considering the various model mixed use facilities outlined above, I propose that the rebuilt Southwest Library incorporate an expanded cultural-, civic-, and community-focused program.

The specifics of the program should be developed through a robust planning process, but could include:
  • Library functions
  • Meeting rooms
  • Special spaces such as music and artist studios, possibly configured for access outside of normal “business hours”
  • Exhibit space
  • Community art gallery which could be managed as a nonprofit gallery
  • Auditorium-theater
  • Café which could be run as a social enterprise
  • Office space for community organizations such as the ANC and the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly
  • Outdoor reading room.

To support retail development and entrepreneurship objectives, the “Community Hub” could have a set up where the café supports entrepreneurship development and could have pop up restaurant functions at night. Alternatively, a café could be run as an education-social entrepreneurship program in association with area hospitality/culinary training programs, perhaps with the Restaurant Opportunities Center, which has expressed interest in opening a training branch in DC.

Community bookstore.  In the original version of this memo, it was suggested that a small bookstore could be included in the building footprint—the Biblioteque National de Quebec in Montreal has bookseller stalls on the backside of the library.  Many libraries have "friends of the library" bookshops selling books, including some examples listed above, or the former Willesden Green library also included space for a used bookstore.

But since then, a branch of the local Politics & Prose bookstore chainlet has opened in the nearby Wharf District development.

Upshur Street Books with President Obama and his daughters Malia and Sasha. 

Currently there is a resurgence in the development of small bookstores ("The novel resurgence of independent bookstores," Christian Science Monitor), as for profit businesses and community hubs, including in DC, Loyal Books, formerly Upshur Street Books ("Bookstore celebrates opening in DC," Washington Post) in Petworth, which is notable for having received a visit from President Obama and his daughters.

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At 12:47 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This article in the Post:

Mentions that the new Wheaton Library is part of a broader community center. From the article:

The most sustainable branches likely will be those co-located in larger facilities such as Montgomery County’s new Wheaton Community Center. The building houses a branch of the Montgomery County library system in addition to a gym, a walking track, game rooms, an auditorium, a kitchen, meeting rooms, a used-book shop and indoor parking.

USA Today also has a story about the difficulties of maintaining black owned and focused bookstores in the face of the pandemic.

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

City of Brighton (Michigan) Center for Arts, Culture, and History

The home base of three cultural icons in the city of Brighton - Brighton's Own Livingston Players, the Brighton Area Historical Society and the Brighton Art Guild. These three 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations have been commissioned to work hard together to develop this center and help see that it is open to the public on a regular basis.

Building owned and maintained by the city.


At 6:59 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The cafe at the main library in Los Angeles, and in Hartford Connecticut are run by social enterprises.

In Hartford, it's the Billings Forge Community Works program.


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