Ubiquity and Overbranching
09/27/2011 5 Comments
Chicago city administrators have taken care of the city’s libraries. As of today, the Chicago Public Library boasts 79 neighborhood branches throughout 77 community areas. These communities are comprised of some 200 individual neighborhoods. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods–often demographically opposed neighborhoods, butting and scraping against one another like tectonic plates. One may suppose the inherent diversities in culture, ethnicity, economic status, and available community resources would substantiate continual presence of the public library in each of these areas and demand that facilities, collections, and services are maintained and kept up-to-date. That seems to be fundamental to CPL’s mission–to be available to all parts of a wildly diverse city. And I can dig it. The internet is invaluable to any library seeking hyperlocality. But nothing is as local as a community-centric physical facility.
Yet some have theorized that libraries, like plants, flourish best with regular trimming. The idea, of course, is that less is more: shutter those old rented storefront branches with the least circulation and lowest gate counts and put that extra cash into more stressed branches. And that’s a fair argument, at least, superficially. Others offer a more shortsighted view, pointing to the costs of erecting a new neighborhood library. To build an 8,000-square-foot brick, LEED-certified structure in any part of Chicago is a seven-figure investment or more, depending on location. These conservatives need only consider the return on such an investment vs. the alternative. But that’s another post altogether.
Flatfunded and overbranched, the Portland Public Library closed branches and went portable. While some argue the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library system was overfunded and overbranched before last year’s major cuts and closures, others believe data may show otherwise.
I’ve even seen the occasional library blogger from Somewhere, USA make the claim that there are too many branches in general. My question is how can that be? Is there really a national sentiment that library systems are bloated?
Overbranching and overbuilding are certainly possible. Though any community is fortunate, in prosperous times, to be targeted for a new or improved library branch, the fact is that funds allocation may not always be practical for the long term. Growth within may very well trump expansion. Still, there remains no substitute for the physical space. The localized library, dedicated to finding, creating, and connecting, is still the most tangible and most accessible element inherent in a library’s model of ubiquity.
What’s the word in your town? Do you have too many libraries? Not enough? How important is it to have a library branch in walking distance from your district school? What are your thoughts on overbranching and hyperlocality? Is a smaller library system a stronger one? Is a larger system built for longevity? Please share.