On November 5, Flint voters approved a bond issue to fund an extensive renovation of the Flint Public Library, which will begin in May 2020. The renovation is expected to take a little over a year, with the dramatically refurbished library opening in August 2021. In the meantime, a temporary location will house the books and other resources for public use.
onthetown had the chance to speak with Director of Library Services Kay Schwartz about the renovation. Schwartz has been on the library’s staff for 22 years this year, with her interest in the development of the internet and online information sparking a career change from CPA in the mid-90s.
“Fortunately a position of ‘cybrarian’ opened up just as I was graduating with a master of library and information services degree from the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor,” she says. “The only place I really wanted to work was the Flint Public Library, which had been my library since I moved here in 1978 and my husband’s library when he grew up in Flint. I was hired in June 1998 and was the cybrarian until 2004 when I became part of the management team as a department head.” In 2009 the then-director left to head up the Detroit Public Library. Schwartz was asked to serve as interim director and became director of library services in 2010.
“It’s something that never crossed my mind as an ambition when I went back to school to get my MLIS degree,” she says “It’s been by far the most rewarding job of my life. I feel like I’m doing important work for my community every day.”
The original library, built in 1958, has suffered wear and tear over the years. “Virtually every bit of its infrastructure needs to be replaced: wiring, plumbing, heating and cooling, elevators, windows, restrooms, roof – you name it,” Schwartz says.
Schwartz says that walls will be torn down so the lower level can be used to its full advantage. All staff offices will be moved there, making 16,000 additional square feet of space available to the public, without changing the footprint of the building.
Schwartz explains that the extra square footage will more than double the size of the children’s space and the digital learning space. Many meeting and conference rooms will be added, from study-room size to a room that seats 150. Four classroom-sized spaces will be added as well, and vending machines dispensing pop, coffee and snacks that can be consumed in an area set aside for that purpose.
“EVERYONE AT THE LIBRARY AND OUR LIBRARY TRUSTEES WANT TO THANK THE CITIZENS OF FLINT FOR GIVING US THE RESOURCES TO OPERATE THEIR LIBRARY AND FOR SO OVERWHELMINGLY SUPPORTING THE BOND THAT TRIGGERED A “GO” ON THE RENOVATION PROJECT. WE THINK THEY WILL LOVE THEIR “LIKE-NEW” FLINT PUBLIC LIBRARY FOR MANY DECADES TO COME.”
A major design difference will be that light will pour in through the windows unblocked by bookshelves. The shelves will be lowered, giving the space an open and airy appearance.
Library patrons will still have plenty of access to materials during the renovation.
“The digital library will be open 24/7 throughout the construction project.” Schwartz says. “People can download e-books, audiobooks, magazines and music from the apps that connect them with Flint Public Library’s catalog.” The library’s main website, fpl.info, will stay up and running during the construction.
The temporary physical location will be announced when negotiations with the prospective landlord are complete. “We will bring many books and DVDs with us for people to check out,” Schwartz says. “Some items will be in offsite storage, but we will be able to fetch them and make them available upon request within a day or two. We will offer full computer and internet access, as well as wi-fi in our temporary location. People will be able to return items at the usual drop box on Crapo Street, plus we will have an outdoor drop box at our temporary location.”
The Flint Public Library once had branch libraries throughout the city. The last three branches closed in 2011 due to the fact that the library’s operating income is based on Flint property values, which have dropped over the past few decades. Schwartz says that it’s unlikely that property values will increase to the point that branches can be re-opened. “Our strong preference would be to find the financial resources to operate a children’s mobile library in the form of a mini-bookmobile,” she says. “A mobile library could stop at community centers, after-school programs and other places where people already congregate. With the changes in Flint neighborhoods, we think a mobile library would be much more useful than a library branch fixed in one place.”
The Kearsley Street location, however, has many advantages. First of all, it’s right in the city center so it’s accessible by regular bus service. Secondly, it’s part of a concentrated area of arts and culture, including the Flint Institute of Arts, Sloan*Longway, the Whiting and the Flint Institute of Music.
“Now that the arts and culture millage has made access to Cultural Center institutions free or very affordable, all our Flint library patrons can take advantage of the programs and services at our great neighbors,” Schwartz says.
With the new open floor plan and clear line of- sight in the renovated library, Schwartz says she expects to keep about the same number of staff.
“We may shift some duties,” she says. “For example, we know someone will be dedicated to managing room reservations for our many meeting rooms, but we think we can fill that role with current staff. We know we will have to increase the amount of custodial support, but that is a contracted service for us.”
Since the library was built in 1958, the tech revolution has occurred, so the new building plan will be designed to take full advantage of this fact.
“We are planning to have laptop checkout,” Schwartz says. “People can borrow a laptop and take it to a location of their choice within the library to work. That way, if you need to use a computer, you don’t necessarily have to sit in the computer area to work. The other big change will be that technology will be built into all the meeting rooms so people using those rooms will be able to plug their laptop into a TV screen or use a projector and sound system for a presentation.” Other new services such as interlibrary loan may become available at some point after the renovation is complete and staff and patrons have settled in with the new features. The digital collection of materials will also be expanded.
Schwarz wants the citizens of Flint to know how grateful she and the trustees of the Flint Public Library are for the support of the community.