Appleton Library Charts Its Future


By Colleen Rortvedt, Appleton Public Library Director

David Lankes, professor and Dean’s Scholar for the New Librarianship at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies tweeted, “Bad libraries build collections. Good libraries build services (of which a collection is one). Great libraries build communities.”

For the past five years, guided by our community, we have developed a new vision and strategies that are based on this notion, because every person deserves a great library. Our facility plays an important role in how successfully we can implement our vision and strategies.

Your input has helped us make important decisions along the way, from the type of facility we need, to the placement of that facility. Thousands of you have provided input and the result is the concept that follows.

A library for the 21st century

We hear a lot of questions about the future of libraries. Why do we need a library when the Internet is so available and comprehensive? Why do we need a library when everything is going digital? The answer is that libraries aren’t just about books and librarians answering reference questions; instead they’re about what you do with the knowledge acquired through various resources.

Public libraries were once a quiet place for consumption of information and contemplation. Resources were defined as physical materials, such as books and the citizen was the consumer of information. Today’s libraries are flexible spaces designed around people, discovery and social interaction. They are designed with the idea of using space as the resource, providing multiple types of space to engage citizens and create experiences alongside the traditional resources that most people associate with libraries. We also work to facilitate our citizens’ learning, creating, sharing and innovating, generating a cycle of knowledge that enriches our community.

Not only are our space needs changing, but also we are making maximum use of space in the current building. “The library could accommodate every stretch of my growing limbs because it, itself, also grew in small ways. Now, as I await interlibrary loans because our collection is limited by space, or I poach a coveted computer space so I can job search, I find that my limbs are starting to feel the walls,” said Maureen Armstrong, Appleton area resident.

When the current facility was built in 1981, there were no computers installed. Currently there are 69 public access computers that are filled daily. There were a total of 110 meeting room reservations in 1981. Last year alone, there were over 4,100 meetings and events held in the library. The current facility was not built to accommodate the demand we are seeing today.

APL 150: The plan for the future

You may have heard us using the term APL 150. What is APL 150? In the simplest form, it is our community-based plan that looks toward our 150th anniversary in 2047 to ensure that we are addressing today’s needs as well as anticipating those of future generations.

We have broken APL 150 up in to three steps: our first step was to define who we are as a library, our second was to define what kind of space we would need to accomplish that mission and our final step is to put the all of the planning into action.

In 2008 and 2009, we completed a Building and Services Study and a detailed Program Design Study. Concerns were expressed that we were putting the cart before the horse and not addressing the question of what a library will even be in the future, and if we even need a library. We listened to those concerns and took the next two years to formulate the framework for what would be known as APL 150.

In April 2012, we kicked off a series of what we call our “Community Conversations,” hosting twenty focus groups. Our goal was to understand the hopes and dreams of the Appleton community. The meetings focused on gathering input about the needs of Appleton as a whole and how the library can fulfill the identified needs. We facilitated open public meetings in aldermanic districts, and every participant’s voice was heard and recorded. Then we sought out additional special focus groups to ensure we heard all perspectives such as those of teens, businesses, diverse populations, millennials and the creative community.

In March and April of 2013, we brought in two guest speakers, urban planner Tony Nelessen and futurist Garry Golden. They spoke about the future of libraries, the impact of different generations and how we can learn to anticipate changes in society and technology.

In May 2013, a group of 20 people including city and library staff, trustees, alderpersons and community leaders visited two highly regarded libraries in Illinois to see first-hand how they are providing 21st century library services to their communities. That month we also asked you to give us your thoughts on our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats through an online survey.

In June 2013, staff experts from different sections of the library gave presentations about what the future of their services will look like.

apl2Finally, during the summer of 2013 we assembled a Community Advisory Committee of representatives from throughout the community who spent hours helping us develop our vision and strategies, which are the building blocks of the services we will offer for years to come.

The next step in the APL 150 process was to define the type of facility we would need to be able to accomplish our vision and strategies. “The core of the library is a community asset to promote lifelong learning. Although it might be difficult to define what the specific demands on the library will be in 25 years, it must be designed to be responsive to rapidly changing technology and environments,” said John Peterson, APL Board of Trustees President.

At the beginning of this year we hired architectural firm Engberg Anderson to update the Program Design Study they completed for us in 2009. The Program Design Study works as a road map for the architects to plan out how much and what type of space is needed. Everything the library needs to provide responsible modern service is in the Program Design Study.

In light of the insights from the community-based strategic plan, as well as changes in service-delivery models, collection usage and trends, and advances in library technology, the 2014 Program Design Study was updated to recommend an increase in building size from the current library’s 86,000 square feet to 120,000 square feet with a potential option to include space for the City of Appleton Parks and Recreation Department, as well as our current tenant, the Outagamie- Waupaca Library System.

The next step in defining the type of facility needed was to identify a best-fit location.

Through a series of interviews with stakeholders in the community, several potential sites for the library were identified, including possible renovation and expansion of the current site. All of the sites can be found on our building process website at

The sites identified were scored on a matrix and weighed with factors including:

  • The Size of the Lot
  • Visibility
  • Image
  • Control
  • Access
  • Cultural Synergy
  • Business Synergy
  • Residential Synergy
  • Adjacencies
  • Amenities
  • Perception of Safety
  • Site Geometry
  • Building Operational Efficiency
  • Ease of Construction
  • Perception

After the sites were scored, the final sites were identified. Those three sites included the current library site, the Post-Crescent and Hoersch Appliance site, and three variations of the Trinity Lutheran Church, Fox Banquets and Rivertyme Catering, and UW-Clinic site.

The sites were then evaluated more extensively with a Building Concept Evaluation. In order to evaluate these sites, the architects and staff developed the best possible layouts for each site. These layouts were then evaluated on a decision matrix structured around how the building would function, based on layout and how the site impacted the specifics of the layout.

The architects then worked to create a general Cost Matrix for each of the sites. The criteria for the Cost Matrix included:

  • Site Acquisition Cost
  • Demolition/Remediation Cost
  • Library Remodeling Cost
  • Total Construction Cost
  • Escalation
  • Professional Services Fees
  • Furniture, Fixture and Equipment Cost
  • Moving and Relocation Fees
  • Cost of Temporary Library Space
  • Collection Enhancement

Finally, the architects created a Site Value Index for each of the three sites. The Site Value Index was calculated using the total score of the Building Concept Evaluation divided by the total estimated project cost.

The final recommendation presented to the Appleton Public Library Board of Trustees was to proceed with a more in-depth evaluation of the Trinity Lutheran Church and Fox Banquets and Rivertyme catering site, based on the Building Concept Evaluation, Cost Matrix and Site Value Index. During the April Appleton Public Library Board Meeting, the library Board of Trustees voted unanimously in favor of the recommendation.

This summer we completed a Phase 1 Environmental Assessment of the properties and moved forward with the process to have friendly negotiations with the property owners. The Friends of Appleton Public Library also worked with an independent feasibility study consultant to determine that, based on the site and concept presented, they would embark on a seven million dollar capital campaign to offset public funding for the project.

After years of community planning with your help, we are finally ready to put all of the work we have completed into action. This doesn’t mean the library project is a done deal, rather we are moving into the approval phase of the project.

Tuesday, September 16, the Appleton Public Library Board of Trustees voted to approve the Library Needs Assessment, Site Evaluation and Prefunding Schematic Design Final Report, which included four recommendations. An additional two recommendations were added based on community feedback. The recommendations that the Board of Trustees approved can be found at “By passing this, it’s a handoff to the city, which will have to consider funding the project as well as parking, traffic and other items,” Peterson said.

We are also currently working with the property owners, and we are confident this can be a mutually beneficial relationship. By statute, there are many steps we need to complete during the property negotiation process. Those steps include a request to begin property negotiations, property appraisals and relocation planning for property owners. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that this is ultimately going to be the site,” Mayor Tim Hanna said. “In order to make a decision they need the information.”

The Mayor’s 2015 budget is now available for the public to view. The City of Appleton Common Council will have the next several weeks to review the budget. The Finance Committee, comprised of five of the 15 alderpersons, will vote on the capital improvement budget Saturday, November 1. The Finance Committee will be voting only on funds for 2015, but with the understanding that this is a multi-year project and will have placeholders of funds to approve in the coming years. There will be a public hearing on the budget Wednesday, November 5, where all community members are invited to voice their opinions on items found in the budget.

“The Appleton Public Library building project is many things, including an economic and community development project,” said Karen Harkness, Director of Community and Economic Development, City of Appleton. “APL’s building project is an essential strategy to improve the vitality of our city from the standpoint of financial growth as well as quality of life.”

Throughout this entire process we have been diligent in making sure that we have not only kept you up-to-date with the planning process, but have also given you opportunities to provide input and we will continue to do this.

The library project is far from over. We urge you to continue to follow along on this exciting journey, provide input, and ask us any questions you may have.

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