Updated Feb. 15, 11:36 a.m.
When visitors to the Central branch of the Sacramento Public Library system descend the stairs from the first-floor lobby and turn left to enter the Kids Place, they’re transported riverside.
Marine blue walls hug a mural wall divided in half length-wise to show a representation of the Sacramento River. The mural sits above a wooden shelf and table holding toys like blocks and Rubik’s cubes, and the center of the floor is wide-open — an ideal space to run around or sit on the blue-dappled floor.
Community feedback helped usher in that renovation, which took place between 2015 and 2016.
One of the renovated sections of the Kids Place at the Central branch.
And more renovations — across the county’s public library system, not just at Central branch — could be possible soon, based on what community members say they need.
The Sacramento Public Library system is asking patrons for feedback to help inform its next Facilities Master Plan, which guides improvements and expansions to existing and new library buildings. The most recent plan was published in 2007 and covers renovation and growth until 2025.
This next Facilities Master Plan will be informed by a community whose needs look much different than what planners could have predicted 16 years ago, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid pace of technological growth.
“We are the public library, and we are here to serve the public,” said Peter Coyl, the library’s director. “We'd like to hear from the public, to make sure that we are truly being responsive, and providing the services, and having the facilities that they want to use.”
Goals of the facilities master plan
Per the library, a facilities master plan “guides decision-making about investments in library facilities in Sacramento communities over the next 10 to 20 years.”
“What the Library means to different people evolves and changes as demographics shift, behavior changes, culture evolves or technology advances,” the 2007-2025 planning committee wrote in their introduction to the plan. “This Facility Master Plan recognizes the value of upgrading or renovating existing libraries and building new ones that support a full range of services.”
Just like the group shaping the future facilities master plan, the previous planning committee similarly asked for community feedback in multiple ways. Those included formal local community needs assessments, voter polls, in-library customer surveys and community forums at each branch of the library.
Coyl, who became the library’s director in 2021, said he got his first library card in Sacramento, at the Arcade branch. He stressed that external feedback is crucial to developing this plan.
“We have our own ideas as librarians and library workers about what we think the community may want to need,” he said. “But it really is the feedback directly from the community that really is going to impact and influence what we do in the future.”
Common themes that emerged in the last facilities master plan include a desire for more technology access, more materials of all kinds, more support for education at all ages and levels and a “community living room” that supported libraries’ role as a community center.
As a result of the current plan, renovations and expansions have been completed not only at the Central library branch, but at the Colonial Heights, Galt, Walnut Grove, North Sacramento-Hagginwood, Southgate, Arden-Dimick and Martin Luther King Jr. libraries.
The self-checkout and express section of the Central library branch after its renovation.Janelle Salanga / CapRadio
Those renovations ranged from community room and kitchen changes, revamped shelving with ADA compliance, additional space for laptops, repainting and recarpeting kids’ areas and adjustments to accessible parking spots, depending on the branch.
COVID-19 pandemic, technology’s growth impact library facilities
A plan that spans over a decade will likely not be able to predict the full breadth of a community’s changing landscape.
“Everyone, it seems, comes to use the computers,” begins the introduction to the 2007-2025 Facility Master Plan.
While computers are still a major fixture in libraries, Coyl, the library director, points out that the arrival of handheld devices like phones and tablets, along with the growing ubiquity of laptops, means the library is looking to figure out the best way technology can be used in the future.
“Fifteen, 16 years ago, we were looking at technology in a much different way — we thought we’d need to have massive computer labs,” he said. “We’re finding people may not need large computer labs — we may need more small community study rooms or places for people to do video conferences.”
He said the latter is a need that’s only increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which also increased the prevalence of people working remote and hybrid jobs.
Another example of the pandemic’s impact on Sacramento Public Library facilities: Curbside service, which remains even after libraries have re-opened for in-person browsing and usage. The Ella K. McClatchy library just re-opened for public browsing on Feb. 14 after moving to curbside pick-up only for the past 2 years.
“For years, most libraries didn't have curbside or pick-up outside — but now every library has that,” Coyl said. “This is obviously a service we're going to stay [providing].”
That’s another thing he said he’d like to hear feedback about: “How do the customers see that being in the future? Do they want to have a drive up window at the library to pick up holds?”
How to offer feedback
Library staff is soliciting feedback in two different ways: Community listening sessions at different library branches and an anonymous survey available in English, Chinese, Spanish, Farsi and Russian.
This move comes after the library sought feedback in 2020 via both listening sessions and surveys — initially, a library press release said, “the master planning process began in the summer of 2020 and is scheduled to be completed in spring 2021.”
Coyl said the pause happened due to the planning process dovetailing with Sacramento County’s overall facilities assessment, which included the libraries.
“We're a joint powers authority, and so we don't own our buildings, the jurisdictions own their buildings,” he said. “We as the library took the opportunity to do our own assessment of all of the facilities using the data the county collected.”
The in-person feedback sessions consist of a presentation with information about the purpose of a facilities master plan, an interactive question-and-answer session and boards where attendees can place sticky notes with “big ideas” for their library branch, Coyl said.
The conversation, however, won’t be primarily about library programs. Mostly, they’re for people to “talk about the buildings and how they want to impact those,” Coyl said.
“This is a listening session for broad, high-level facilities concepts, and there will be some conversation about programs and services, but we’re going to be holding some other listening sessions in the coming months about our strategic plan, which is specific to the actual programs and services that we offer,” he said. The library aims to arrange those targeted sessions within the next four months.
Remaining sessions will take place from 5-7 p.m. on the following dates:
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct branch Peter Coyl received his library card and to note the Ella K. McClatchy library has re-opened.
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