Weber County commissioner: Libraries ‘don’t need to be Taj Mahals’
Supporters balk at scaling back bond approved by voters to create community gathering spaces.
Published: July 13, 2013 09:39PM
Updated: July 15, 2013 12:55PM
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Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune The recorded book section at the Pleasant Valley Library Branch in Washington Terrace Thursday July 11, 2013. The library is the newest of the county's libraries and exemplifies the idea of libraries as "third places" where people gather for a number of reasons rather than places to check out books. In addition to its black box theater, the Pleasant Valley branch features art, has a coffee shop and inviting areas for people to engage together or with technology and databases they'd otherwise not be able to access.

In June, Weber County voters OK’d a $45 million bond to upgrade and expand the county’s cadre of public libraries.

According to longtime Library Director Lynnda Wangsgard, bond supporters were buying into the vision of libraries as community space where people of all ages can gather, gain new insights and connect with one another.

However, at least one of the county’s three commissioners hopes to scale back the scope and cost of the plan that Wangsgard said has been three years in the making.

“I’m hoping to spend quite a bit less,” said Commissioner Matt Bell, who took office in January. “Libraries need to be nice, they need to be adequate, but they don’t need to be Taj Mahals.”

The June 25 vote-by-mail special election drew 31 percent turnout, with 54 percent favoring the library upgrades:

• $23 million to build a new headquarters branch in Roy

• $16.8 million to renovate the 45-year-old Main Library in Ogden

• $5 million to expand the North Ogden branch

• $165,000 to install more parking at the Ogden Valley branch in Huntsville

Asphalt for the new parking area should be installed this fall, Wangsgard said; construction of the new Southwest branch should finish by 2016. Certain services will then relocate from the North and Main libraries to Roy, allowing for the North expansion and renovation of the 45-year-old Main Library to begin.

“The goal is to finish by April 2018,” Wangsgard said. That would mark the 50th anniversary of the dedication of Ogden’s Main Library.

The $9 million Pleasant Valley branch in Washington Terrace opened in 2009, Wangsgard dubbing it the system’s benchmark library. Along with shelves of books and movies, the facility also features a computer center, art gallery, black box theater and more.

“Libraries are changing and becoming ‘third places’ where people gather for all sorts of reasons other than to just check out a book,” Wangsgard said. “They’re not 7-Eleven libraries” that focus mostly on circulation.

The “third place” or “third space” concept surfaced in the late 1980s when author Ray Oldenburg labeled homes as first places, workplaces as second, and various anchors in the community as third informal meeting places where civic engagement and interaction occurs.

While Commissioner Kerry Gibson sides with Bell on frugality, he supports Wangsgard’s vision of libraries as third places, noting that circulation-based libraries “would tend to become more and more irrelevant over time.”

The 20-year library bond will boost taxes on a $161,000 home by $13.50 per year, and on a $161,000 business by $24.43 per year.

It will piggyback on the county’s jail bond that expires in January 2018 by extending that levy — $18 for a $161,000 home and $32.84 for a $161,000 business — for the remaining life of the library bond.

Roy resident Bruce Perry, who retired from Deseret Chemical Depot about seven years ago, said he favors paying more in taxes for libraries — despite his fixed income.

“That resource in my community is pretty key,” Perry said. “It provides to me an opportunity to take advantage of things I might not be able to otherwise.”

Perry said he frequents the small Roy branch to access materials, participates in weekly discussion groups at Ogden’s Main Library and relaxes in the comfortable Pleasant Valley spaces whenever he can.

“They sold us a fine idea and facility,” Perry said of public forums held on the library plan. “The ideas were quite appropriate and were explained incredibly well ... and that was what I voted for.”

If the project’s size and scope changed, Perry said he would be “incredibly disappointed.”

“You can scale things back to a warehouse,” Perry said, “and it’s foolishness to provide facilities that are not adequate for some distance into the future.”

Spencer Stokes shares Perry’s love for libraries.

The prominent Republican co-chaired the library’s bond committee along with Marlin Jensen, a Democrat and retired Mormon church historian.

Both were present Tuesday when commissioners approved the first contract for design of the new Southwest branch in Roy.

“I know there are those out there who want to cut the size of the bond,” Stokes said. “I wanted it bigger — to add a Plain City branch, because I think accessibility is that important.”

Stokes also subscribes to the view of libraries as third places.

“I’m a big fan of barbershops because of the exchange of information and ideas that occur there,” Stokes said. “That’s what I love about libraries — there are hundreds of meetings that occur every month at our libraries.”

Stokes lamented the diminishing third place across America: “This is one of the last bastions left.”

Evelyn Bertilson, who has chaired the Friends of the Library fundraising board for more than a decade, said she hopes the library’s vision remains intact as the plan proceeds.

“Our credibility is on the line with the voters that supported us,” Bertilson said, “and we want to deliver what was promised.”

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