City, county present on new Manhattan Beach library

A sketch of what the new Manhattan Beach library could look like. COURTESY OF THE CITY OF MANHATTAN BEACH

With the library in Manhattan Beach to double in size in a $22 million project, the amount of use could triple, said Linda Demmers, library consultant for Manhattan Beach, at a community meeting on Tuesday.

While residents expressed concerns about libraries becoming obsolete in a digital age, Demmers presented Los Angeles County statistics indicating library use has increased significantly in the last decade.

In 2000, the library entertained 43,155 visits and 32,358 borrowers. Five years later, 142,660 visits and 33,112 borrowers. In 2010, the use increased to 178,784 visits and 43,241 borrowers.

“You could see 600,000 visits in a new building, easily,” Demmers said. Construction is expected to start early 2013.

This left residents wondering: Will operational costs skyrocket with more use? Will there be enough programming in the library to fill the extra space? Is the proposed infrastructure design flexible to adapt to new trends?

Miguel Acosta, assistant to the county librarian, said the infrastructure would be built for maximum flexibility. “Some pundits have claimed that the birth of the e-book will mean the end of the library – this is far from the truth,” Acosta said. “Underneath some of the book stacks, we’ll be installing electrical and data ports, so that if we find that we don’t need as many stacks some day, when we remove them, we still have the infrastructure to add more seating, more computers or more program area.”

Margaret Todd, county librarian, added, “People don’t want to have to buy every e-book that’s out there – they’d like to borrow it.”

Plus, Demmers said, digital books take up less space. “We’re getting more on the shelf with less space,” she said.

Gary McAulay of the Manhattan Beach Historical Society asked about the fate of historical archives, like newspapers that detail the South Bay’s childhood. Todd proposed a meeting to pursue grant funding for digitization.

Self-service checkout stations and an automated book sorter will be built, Acosta said. The sorter will divide returned library items in one of three bins – either to return to the stacks, to transfer to another library, or to be put on hold for pick-up. This will save operational costs by freeing staff to provide enhanced customer service, instead of completing mundane, time-intensive sorting tasks, he said.

While specific design elements are not yet concrete, the city determined it’s more cost-effective to tear down the existing building and build a two-story building in its place to total 21,000 square feet, instead of adding to the existing structure, said Jim Arndt, Manhattan Beach public works director.

A two-story building, as opposed to a larger one-story building, reduces walking distances from opposite ends of the library and takes advantage of natural light, said Jim Favaro of Johnson Favaro, the firm contracted to design the library. Favaro presented different options for external design – whether building traditional windows, horizontal, panoramic windows, or wall-to-ceiling glass windows.

Todd said the county’s design interest is health, safety and durability – not buying chairs that would break or need replacement in two years. However, she said, “The look and feel is the community’s decision.”

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