The Library – a white elephant or simple good enough?

So, what is a good enough library, what does that look like?

Obviously, the idea of a great library with all conceivable bells and whistles is something most people find attractive.

Let’s make this personal. If someone offers you a Lexus, free of charge, to replace your current car, you’ed probably take it, even if your insurance was higher. But if you had to pay the financing month after month, you would do a lot of research, weigh the options, look at what you can realistically afford, and then make a decision.

In our case, we went with a Mazda3 hatchback, for a number of reasons to do with maintenance cost, financing and the like.

It is hard when you scale up to million dollar buildings to make the same types of decisions, to apply the same type of formula.

The new library is bold, and some call it expensive. I am not sure about that.

The Vancouver Public Library cost $120 million (ish) 15 years ago. Ours is $55 million. They have a bigger collection and a bigger staff, and the city is twice the size, but they recognized the importance of spending big to create an icon, and it worked. The VPL is a success.

Like our proposal the VPL has commercial rental space. There are coffee shops and government offices, paying rent to the library to help cover the cost of the building. I think this is also a really good idea.

I think from a central library perspective, this proposal is adequate, not that ambitious. I am not sure why it is $55 million, maybe the library is taking the bold step of trying to build a building that will last for more than 20 years. After all, the current library is about 60 years old. If the new library lasts 30 years, that is less than $2 million a year to depreciate the capital cost.

The library will provide services for one of the largest, most densly populated parts of metro, downtown Halifax. The tiny North End library is the only other on the peninsula, with its population of 65 thousand. Dartmouth is about to be served by a much larger new Woodlawn library, the new library in Highfield Park, and the signature library at Alderney Gate. Surely this one library on the peninsula needs to be very large to provide comperable serice to such a large population?

On top of this, though, this is the central library. I grew up in Dartmouth, but we still got on the bikes to the ferry and came over to Halifax to go to Spring Garden Road. It always had the best resources and best reference section. I don’t think this has changed.

So give me the facts about the cost. What would put this argument to bed for me is a comparison on per square foot construction and also operations & maintenance cost for central libraries in comparable cities. Tell me what they have in Quebec, Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa, London, what it cost, give me some metrics. Compare cost per square foot, square foot per population, that kind of stuff.

Here is hoping Halifax Library management get us some comparatives that let us see whether this is really a white elephant or just good enough.