Riverside Public Library Director Janice Foley last week publicly announced for the first time that the library board has hired a space planner to begin exploring ways to modernize the lower level, which houses the Children and Youth Services Department.

Foley laid out the plan in very general terms in “Planning for the future,” printed on the front page of the library’s winter newsletter, which was mailed out Feb. 1.

“The layout inside of the library is being studied to make sure we are using the space we have to its best advantage,” Foley wrote. “The Children and Youth Services areas, as well as Teens, will be an area of focus for the space planners.”

In a separate interview with the Landmark, Foley took pains to emphasize that the space-planning effort was in its infancy. Although the library board hired Library Vision Studio as a consultant last August, and an ad hoc library board space planning committee has met a handful of times with the consultant, library trustees have not seen any proposals or heard any cost estimates for improvements.

The Friends of the Library donated $9,800 to the library to fund the hiring of the consultant.

“Space planners are in the gathering stage right now,” said Foley. “We just want to see what the options are.”

The layout of the library’s lower level is somewhat haphazard. The Youth Services desk is roughly in the center of the space at the bottom of the staircase, which interrupts the flow of the area. A handful of tables and chairs are located near the stairway, with bookshelves surrounding them.

A separate children’s area is located behind the desk and a storytime room is isolated in a corner. Separated from the main area behind a wall is another set of stacks holding biographies and access to bathrooms, a conference room and offices.

“For so many years we fit new programs in with a shoehorn,” said Foley. “We’re trying to look into the future and make sure we’re situated.”  

Rick McCarthy, the space planner from Library Vision Studio who has been working with the board, said the library was responding to the changes that have accelerated in the past decade.

“The bottom line is that libraries have changed a lot in how they deliver services,” said McCarthy. “The challenge is, how do you keep library services up to date while keeping the charm of the building intact?”

McCarthy has been meeting with library staff, conducting “visioning” sessions to identify improvements they’d like to
include “and how to do that within the existing context of the building.”

A key component of any improvement would be technology infrastructure.

“Technology is infused in every aspect of library services,” said McCarthy. 

Beyond that, the space — particularly the lower-level area — needs to meet the needs of contemporary children and teens.

“People are working more collaboratively these days,” said McCarthy. “How do we provide venues for that? The books are still going to be there … but there needs to be a better selection of meeting spaces for small groups, and to provide better services to young adults. What more can we do for that group?”

The library board was approached last summer by the Riverside Elementary Education Foundation (REEF) to form a partnership and work together on planning for the Children and Youth Services space.

Karen Layng, a member of the REEF board of directors, said that improving library services for children fell within REEF’s mission and in July offered to donate money for a resource center in the library, with naming rights.

The library board has tabled entering into such a partnership for the time being, until they have more information from the space planner on future options. Layng said REEF understands the need for the library board to proceed deliberately.

“I think they’re going about this exactly the right way,” said Layng, a Riverside resident. “REEF and I, personally, will assist in any way we can.”

 In the newsletter, Foley said the library board will be soliciting input from the public, but there are no firm plans for obtaining that input right now.

“The community’s input is important to our future, so we will let you know when the opportunity arises for you to express your opinions on the future face of the library,” Foley wrote in the newsletter. “We are not sure what will happen as a result of the study, but we want our patrons to know that we are dedicated to providing the best library services possible to you.”

Foley also emphasized that the building’s historic character would not be affected by any interior changes. The Great Room on the main floor and the exterior of the building are not changing, she said.

The Riverside Public Library, in 1993, was the first building to be designated a village landmark.

“Nothing would interfere with the historic landmark beauty of our building,” said Foley.

 McCarthy said any changes to the main floor of the library would be limited to relocating furniture and improving “back of the house” areas where staff members work.

“We can make it a lot more efficient for staff and the working environment.”