By Carol L. Cole
Transcript Staff Writer
Communities that build new libraries weave their way through a difficult but rewarding path, said Jeff Scherer, a nationally award-winning architect with the Minnesota-firm Meyer, Scherer and Rockcastle Ltd., consulting Norman on its hopes and dreams for a new, state-of-the-art library.
Many people think it might be a hard way to make a living — to spend years in meetings, often with contentious factions, to design one of the 250 libraries built nationwide every year.
“It’s actually the most rewarding thing,” Scherer said in a recent interview. “That’s the ultimate contribution. You can’t create something that powerful without a lot of work.”
He said Norman’s current library, built in 1965, has three distinct problems design-wise, totally aside the condition issues.
“One is circulation — how you move in and out, how people naturally navigate through space,” Scherer said. “Ninety percent of individuals veer to the right … It’s just this natural arc of walking. … And if we have circulation checkout right in the path of the entry and there is a line going to checkout, then there is mixing going on that’s blocking and pushes people off to the other side.”
Another problem is the zoning of noisy and quiet activities. It’s difficult to keep the two types of activities separated in the Norman library’s cramped space.
“It’s not intentionally noisy but just naturally noisy, just computers and printers and the reference question desk and stuff,” Scherer said, not to mention classes and storytimes.
The third issue is there is no space for those who want to meet together.
“There is a strong lack of space here for individuals to be together and talk to each other for homework helping and tutoring and people doing research projects together,” Scherer said.
Individual space in the Norman library also is at a premium. On the flip side, there is a dearth of meeting space.
“A library provides needs that no one else would meet,” Scherer said, giving an example of a meeting space for support groups. “A library is more than just a repository.”
Along with helping Norman envision what it would like for a new library, Scherer is helping maximize the space the library does have.
“I think one of the things we are going to look at here is how we can rearrange the activities to minimize those crossover tensions, to minimize the noise bleeding from the high activity space to the low activity space,” he said.
And he is going to work on reworking how self-check works at the Norman library.
“Sixty to 80 percent of your materials could be self-checked,” Scherer said, of the people who just want a few items and don’t want to linger. “They want to get in, they want to get out.”
Scherer’s firm was recently hired to convert a 120,000-square-foot former Wal-Mart to a library for McAllen, Texas.
“They are actually pretty interesting buildings because there is lots of parking. They have high ceilings and you can punch holes in them,” he said. “You can slice them and dice them. They are just like a neutral, like a shoe box a kid might take to make a toy house out of.”
He said finding the funds to build a new library balances against the perennial city needs of roads and public safety and infrastructure.
“Timing is never perfect. The question is how big is the gap?” Scherer said.
One of the big questions is why build a new library? Why not just remodel the old one?
“Remodeling this building would be no less than starting over,” he said, noting that the recently built Fayetteville, Ark., library is two-and-a-half times the size of the old one but has about the same utility bills.
Norman is in the process of figuring out what it wants in a new library. To help with that, Scherer and the Citizens for a New Norman Public Library may have a little fun.
It’s something like a Rorschalk inkblot test, library style.
Participants in an upcoming community meeting will be shown photos and given descriptions of many of the world’s finest libraries.
Then they vote for their top 10 favorites.
Results are tabulated and presented at the end of the meeting.
And from that, the committee and Scherer can begin to figure out how much the public might be able to fund and how much they would need to raise from private sources.
“It’s rare that a community will give you an open checkbook,” Scherer said. “It’s better to have the tough conversations up front. … Before that number is discussed, there has to be a very serious discussion of what that number means.”
Scherer will return to Norman in August, October and January for meetings with the community, committee and library staff to determine a direction.
“Libraries are kind of one of the last institutions that’s trying to preserve community continuity,” he said.
Carol L. Cole
By Carol L. Cole
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