The recent arrival of the library’s new bookmobile represents a door slammed shut on expectations of first-class interim service during planned closure of branches for Measure FF-related construction.
The Library’s interim service is one very small bookmobile – the smallest of seven models that are offered by its vendor.
It is the smallest bookmobile I’ve ever seen.
Dubbed the “BranchVan” by the library, it would be more appropriately called the Twig Van.
Berkeley citizens and library users had every reason to expect the library administration to do what it did several years ago when the Main library closed for renovations. At that time, an interim space was fitted out in a downtown storefront just a few blocks from the Central library. The location was 2121 Allston Way. The interim service hours were extensive, including weekends and four nights a week until 9 pm.
This past might well be expected to set the example for the future, where the library plans to close two branches at a time temporarily, for two renovations and two reconstructions after demolition.
That is because the library has said nothing about interim services in its publicity for the public, including bond descriptions, booklets, and fliers. A visit to the library’s website provides dead links – no information available – for “Services During Closure,” that is listed under “Branch Construction Projects”
Berkeley citizens might well expect the library to provide interim service in a storefront or other fixed location for another reason: The Board of Library Trustees (BOLT), the library’s governing body, never placed interim service on any agenda in the last year and a half. There only mention of bookmobile plans was at the June 9, 2010 BOLT meeting, where it was clear that Library Services Director Donna Corbeil had already made a decision to obtain a bookmobile. She presented the trustees with a decision to purchase a specific van from a specific vendor, OBS, Inc. of Canton, Ohio, at a cost “not to exceed $83,200.” There was no discussion of alternatives, or about a bookmobile’s specific size or capacity. There was also no discussion of how many hours of public service one vehicle would provide per week, when shared by two closed branch locations. The library plans to work on renovations – or demolitions and replacements -- of two branches at a time. Consequently, a single bookmobile cannot provide the same open hours at each location as each branch provides now, six days a week including two evenings until 8 pm.
There are alternatives – better alternatives – to service from a single, tiny, bookmobile.
The library trustees and administration could have, and should have, discussed numerous alternatives – and they still can. Alternatives include opening interim library services in storefronts or public facilities – or renting portable structures or trailers. Such options could provide much more space than bookmobiles, as well as the ability to provide full-time service. Portables in Washington DC provided 4000-square foot interim library-like facilities. Another option could be to park a single trailer outside each closed branch.
BPL’s administration chose a bookmobile with “up to 1,500 volume capacity,” while its vendor’s website shows seven models with capacities ranging from 1,500 to 4,000 books, and a single trailer with a capacity of 3,000 to 6,000 books.
Why did the library choose a bookmobile with the smallest capacity of those offered?
Our contact with a national company renting construction site trailers revealed that a 32-foot trailer, could be provided parked at the curb of a library renovation site, with a wheelchair accessible ramp, at a cost of under $10,000 for twelve months, including hauling. Each additional month would cost $250.
For less than the cost of purchasing the tiny twig-mobile, Berkeley could provide trailers for library service at closed branches for eight years. Another plus with trailers or fixed locations: there would be no ongoing costs for gasoline or engine maintenance or tire replacement, and the entire operation could be expected to be greener than a bookmobile.
Steven Finacom, writing in the Berkeley Daily Planet January 19, 2011, found that the library had spoken about interim service at a March 31, 2010 community meeting. (“Library Buys temporary Bookmobile -- Paid for out of Branch Permanent Renovation Funds.”)
In further research, I found this statement by Library staff from the notes describing a March 31, 2010 Community Meeting held at the Claremont Branch Library.Here is the full agenda item from the June 9, 2010 Agenda:
(Question) “Will there be a temporary site during the closure?”
(Answer) “The plan is to close two branches at a time and Claremont and North will be closed first. We would like patrons to visit the other branches that will be open, including the Central Library. South Branch is the closest branch to Claremont. The Board of Library Trustees is discussing the option of a book van to deliver holds and pick up materials in the neighborhoods of the closed branches.”
IV. ACTION CALENDARAnd that is how BOLT decided that Berkeley will have a twig-mobile for few hours per week at each branch. The smallest available bookmobile will chug back and forth from branches to its overnight parking space and back. No storefront. No portable libraries. No single trailer at all. Just a tiny mini-bookmobile for bookloving Berkeley, a city that spends more on libraries per person than almost any other city in the country.
A. Contract: OBS, Inc.; for Purchase of a 2010 Model Year Explorer I Sprinter Customized
Recommendation: Adopt a resolution to recommend the City Council authorize the City Manager to execute a purchase order with OBS Inc. of Canton, Ohio for the acquisition of a van configured for the provision of off‐site library services during the closure periods of the four branch libraries while undergoing construction related to the Measure FF funded Branch Libraries Improvement Program in an amount not to exceed $83,200.
The Board of Library Trustees unanimously approved this action. The Minutes for that item show the following:
A. Contract: OBS, Inc.; for Purchase of a 2010 Model Year Explorer I Sprinter Customized Book Van
Sample photos provided (Attachment 12)
The Board discussed the van presented to provide mobile library services during branch closures for construction. Staff responded to questions regarding the vehicle, it will be ADA accessible, have flexibility with moveable carts to take services inside partner organizations, and due to the size it will not require a special State of CA license to operate. Director Corbeil reported that Measure FF funds can be used to purchase the vehicle with the caveat it will be used to continue providing library services when a branch is closed. Following approval by the board, staff will bring to City Council, following their approval a purchase order will be issued and the custom vehicle will be ordered. Preliminary schedule is for late fall delivery. Staff will explore local vendors for the personalized graphics/wrap, security system and bio‐diesel options. Price does not include licensing and taxes. In addition, the staff is planning for the parking of vehicle, ideally loading and unloading at the Central Library Bancroft Street entrance can be secured. The item as presented includes a recommendation to City Council to approve changing the yellow zone on Bancroft south of the library to a gray zone for library parking only.
R10‐050 Moved by Trustee Moore, seconded by Trustee Henry‐Golphin, to adopt a resolution to recommend the City Council authorize the City Manager to execute a purchase order with OBS Inc. of Canton, Ohio for the acquisition of a van configured for the provision of off‐site library services during the closure periods of the four branch libraries while undergoing construction related to the Measure FF funded Branch Libraries Improvement Program in an amount not to exceed $83,200.
Motion passed unanimously.
What should be done?
We recommend carrying out a full review of alternatives available for providing substantial interim library service. Alternatives to be considered include obtaining use of storefronts and other fixed spaces; portable structures; trailers; and larger bookmobiles than the one purchased. The library should do a thorough cost and benefit analysis, including ongoing operational costs. For a bookmobile, costs include gasoline, engine maintenance, tire replacement, etc.; for storefronts, rental and temporary fitting out for library services.
Only after making such an analysis publicly, and with public input, should BOLT decide on a course of action that provides reasonable interim service for Berkeley’s generously-funded, much-used, and much-appreciated, public libraries.
Peter Warfield is Executive Director of Library Users Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.