Photograph by Elizabeth Henderson

Plans by MCPL Director Cindy Gray, left, to spend more than $500,000 renovating the library's second floor came under fire from the public and some library board members at a recent board work session. Board President Stephen Moberly is seated at the right.

Planned renovation of the Monroe County Public Library's second floor drew criticism at the July 11 Board of Trustees work session attended by about 40 citizens.

The renovations, estimated to cost more than $500,000, was pushed to the top of the agenda by board member Randy Paul.

The plan would include relocating the audio visual department to the second floor, installing new furniture and carpets, improving the Kirkwood entrance, replacing the circulation desk with an ergonomic one and incorporating self-checkouts in more user-friendly ways.

Steve Backs, head of the adult services department, which merged with AV in 2001, cited improved patron service as the key reason for the move.

According to Backs, the merger, combined with the loss of two full-time staff positions and staff responsibility for covering three service desks, is one reason for the move. Relocation would allow adult services to downsize to two service desks.

"The pressure that I've felt the last couple of years because we've been doing these three desks has really driven me to say, 'Let's bring them up here,'" Backs said.

However, he said he does not view the AV relocation as the only way to improve patron service.

"I'm not emotionally attached to bringing AV upstairs," he said. "Give me two more staff members, and do what you want."

***

Resident concerns dominated the meeting and ranged from decreased quality of service, inefficient use of taxpayer money and demands that the plan be reconsidered.

One long-time patron urged the board to hold off.

"I just think we should rethink what we're doing because I'm not sure that it's the best thing for the library," she said.

Thom Gillespie, professor of interactive storytelling and game design at IU, said the plan fails to serve the community.

"The way I view this thing is the library board is proposing to move media 100 feet for $500,000," he said. "I think this makes absolutely no sense for a public library. Its real position should be to provide new access, new information and new opportunities to the community."

County Council member Vic Kelson, who said he was not representing the council at the meeting, also voiced concerns.

"As a taxpayer and as a citizen, when I see somebody spending $600,000, I want to see more service for the community," he said. "I don't want to see new floor plans and that sort of thing. I think things that bring more materials to more people and more places is a priority that as a citizen I would like to see."

Barbara Swinson, circulation department manager, maintained that while she didn't agree with the plan in its entirety, she thinks the renovations would allow staffers to better serve the increasing number of patrons with the same level of funding.

***

Concerns about the library's transparency when meeting with the County Council to request funding for the renovations were also raised.

There were differing views regarding the exact priorities that the board disclosed to the council.

According to Paul, as well as a May 2007 document that contained a prioritized listing of projects, the primary projects listed were the annual replacement and purchase of equipment for Community Access Television Services (CATS), completion of the children's department at the Ellettsville branch, the purchase of a bookmobile and the establishment of a new branch library.

Renovations for the first, second and third floors of the downtown library were listed as secondary considerations.

Kelson said that when he saw footage on CATS of the library board meeting where the plans for renovation were discussed, "It kind of caught me unawares because I really thought the Ellettsville children's department was a very high priority."

Library Director Gray responded: "We never, in my mind, misrepresented what we were calling our attention to with the County Council. The second floor renovations were never part of the priority process because we felt like it was already in the works."

Paul urged the board to reconsider the proposed plan's prudence.

"If we move forward, we are turning our backs on the County Council, and this is a classic bait and switch," he said. "We walk in and say, 'Give us money,' they say 'Okay,' when, frankly, they were clear to us that they were not going to support this kind of renovation."

Paul expressed concern that the board would lose the public's trust if the renovations take place and worried that it would be difficult to get future funding from the County Council.

Regarding the availability of funds, Kelson acknowledged, "It is difficult to come up with tax money for additional capital projects right now. And I think it's going to continue to be, so we need to use those monies wisely as a community."

***

Many board members favored reconsidering the plan to renovate the second floor.

Board member Janice Stockton, though she is worried about the current situation, believes that everyone is doing their best.

"I really do have some major concerns, and I'm worried about what's going on," she said. "But I think everyone, the people on this board and the staff, are trying. Their hearts are in the right place."

Fred Risinger, another board member, conceded, "Maybe moving AV upstairs is something that we will have to think about for a future time."

Board Vice President Linda Hunt said the carpeting should still be replaced and that she felt moving the AV department to the second floor would be an improvement.

Hunt wants to reduce the scope of the renovations and allow contractors to rebid on the project.

"I don't think that we can be intimidated and postpone things like the renovation because we're worried about what's going to happen in the future," she said. "I think part of the reason why we have the success in this library that we do is because the place looks good. And I just don't want it to decline."

Elizabeth Henderson can be reached at .