Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program Blog

Bond Bill, again

A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, April 24 at 10 am in the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets.

This post was written by Lauren Stara on April 3, 2014

What’s New?

Both Library Journal and American Libraries devote one issue a year to library buildings. I’ve been looking through the last ten years of these to see if I can spot any obvious trends.

The most dramatic change since 2004 is the impact of the recession. In December 2004, the Library Journal headline reads “It Just Keeps Booming: Thirty-four years of LJ data on public library construction yields a picture of healthy growth.” The issue lists 203 public library building projects. By contrast, the 2013 issue, entitled “Something for Everyone,” lists 77.

Buzzwords are shifting, too. There were no mentions of patron creation needs in 2004. Now, maker spaces and audio/video production equipment and the places to house them are prevalent. Ten years ago, we described “green” or “energy efficient” buildings; now it’s all about “sustainability” and LEED.

Talk about repurposing spaces, especially retail or former retail facilities, is more common now. There are several featured projects that successfully place public libraries in former grocery or big box stores. Others describe public libraries setting up shop in malls or other rental space.

The two most prevalent concepts that have crept into library design in the last ten years are:

  • Quiet space: it’s cited in almost every design description. Libraries are not the quiet places they used to be, and yet a significant number of patrons want or need a place where they can concentrate or work quietly. Designated quiet rooms are the only way to make this possible. Quiet “zones” or “areas” don’t usually work.
  • Flexibility: now a key factor in library design. We can no longer set up acres of 72” shelving and expect our patrons to be satisfied. The use of wheeled furniture and shelving, movable partitions, and easily deployable equipment make it possible to use a single space for an almost infinite number of activities. It also paves the way for reconfiguration when needs change (and they will).

All in all, there weren’t any big surprises, but it’s illuminating to see the progression. If you want to be inspired, The Library Journal Year in Architecture issue comes out in December, and American Libraries’ Design Showcase issue is published each September/October (issues prior to 2013 were in April).

This post was written by Lauren Stara on March 25, 2014

Revised Waiting List published

The Construction Waiting List has been revised slightly. Here’s the new order, as of March 19, 2014:

  1. Chester C. Corbin Public Library (Webster)
  2. Woburn Public Library
  3. Hopkinton Public Library
  4. Somerville Public Library
  5. Stoughton Public Library
  6. Hatfield Public Library
  7. Sherborn Library
  8. Leicester Public Library

Funding for these library projects is contingent on the passage of the Bond Bill (see previous blog posts).

This post was written by Lauren Stara on March 20, 2014

Update to the Update

The bill number has changed AGAIN but the Construction grant money is still intact — it’s now H.3933 and has been referred to Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. The new bill link is here.

This post was written by Lauren Stara on March 13, 2014

Update to Bond Bill Update

The following came from Edward R. Philips in the Office of Representative Louis L. Kafka, via Pat Basler of Stoughton PL:

Hi Pat:
The House Ways & Means Committee is currently polling out the General Bond bill (H3690) and we expect to vote on it in the House on Wednesday afternoon. The language below is included in the bill in Section 2A; the $150 million for the Board of Library Commissioners remains intact. I’ll send you confirmation on Wednesday that it has been passed and sent to the Senate; let me know if you have any questions. Thanks so much!


This post was written by Lauren Stara on March 3, 2014

Bond Bill Update

As you probably know, the MPLCP grant program runs on state funding. The last time a Bond Bill was authorized for this program was in 2008, and all of those funds have been spent or committed.

A new Bond Bill is under consideration which would provide $150 million for the construction and renovation of public library facilities in Massachusetts, and we are crossing our fingers that it will pass both the House and the Senate before the beginning of the new fiscal year in July. This is because the funding is part of the Governor’s General Governmental Needs Bond Bill (H.3690). If it isn’t passed before then, we’ll have to start from scratch with anther lengthy bill process and a new governor or other sponsor.

What will we do with all that money?, you may ask. Well, we still have nine libraries on the waiting list* from the last grant round. These libraries have approval from the MBLC to receive a grant (pending local approvals and funding), but the MBLC doesn’t yet have the money to give them. This is the priority for the new Bond. We are also planning a new Construction Grant Round in the next few years.

However, just because a $150 million dollar bond is approved, that doesn’t mean we can fund all these projects immediately. The annual capital budget, administered by the state’s Administration and Finance division, sets a “cap” on how much of the bond we can expend for each fiscal year. This includes ongoing projects and projects from the waiting list.

The Governor’s General Governmental Needs Bond Bill, Bill H.3690: An Act providing for capital facility repairs and improvements for the Commonwealth, is in the House Ways and Means Committee. If passed by House Ways and Means, it will go on to the Senate. To track the bill’s progress, go to

You may also want to let your representatives know about the status of Bill H. 3690, especially if any of them are on the House Ways and Means Committee. You can find out who’s on the committee here:

*MPLCP Waiting List (as of 1/1/14)
1. Chester C. Corbin Public Library (Webster)
2. Sandwich Free Public Library
3. Woburn Public Library
4. Hopkinton Public Library
5. Somerville Public Library
6. Stoughton Public Library
7. Hatfield Public Library
8. Sherborn Library
9. Leicester Public Library

This post was written by Lauren Stara on February 21, 2014

Sharing Your Building: Pros (and Cons)

One of the most common questions we are getting from potential grantees is about shared facilities. Here’s our latest wisdom on the subject:

First, semantics. There’s a difference between a “shared” facility and a “joint” facility. In fact, there’s a really big difference. A joint library is one where two or more towns build a single library building and operate it together, serving the combined population. Joint libraries are usually located on or near the border between towns. A good example of this is the Hamilton-Wenham Public Library, which opened in 2001. Joint libraries can result in savings in both capital and operating budgets for a new library, since costs are shared between participating municipalities. Coordination can be a challenge, though. A bonus for joint library projects: they are given priority in the awarding of grant funds – it says so in the MBLC Regulations.

A shared facility, on the other hand, is a library that shares space in a single building with another local entity. Common potential partnerships are with community centers, senior centers and municipal departments. One example of this arrangement is the Townsend Public Library, which opened in 2009 and shares its building with a senior center. Shared libraries must be very careful to consider their future expansion needs before deciding to share space.

To be successful, shared and joint facilities require careful and detailed planning; “handshake” agreements can become problematic when the people who shook hands are no longer around. Buildings tend to last longer than personnel, so any agreements must cover all eventualities and must be written documents. If you plan to apply for an MPLCP grant, a complete, legally executed Management Plan is an additional requirement for shared and joint facility project. Also, grant funds will not cover any non-library portions of a shared building.

There can be advantages to a shared or joint library project, but there are also numerous pitfalls. Get in touch with one of the MPLCP Library Building Specialists if you are thinking along these lines – we can help you through the decision process.

This post was written by Lauren Stara on February 12, 2014

Resource Guides

If you are looking for information about planning a new or renovated library, our Resource Guides can help you.

So far, we have three main guides for the construction program; they can be found at:

This FAQ answers some of the questions we often get regarding the grant program and our department within the state agency.

Planning and Design ~
This is a detailed guide to help applicants to the MPLCP’s Planning & Design grants. It also has valuable general planning information on topics such as population projections and the planning process.

Developing a Library Building Program ~
The word program means different things to different people. This guide explains what a building program is and how to put one together.

Also in progress (as of January 2014) are guides on Library Acoustics and Lighting in Libraries. If there are other topics related to library buildings and design for which you’d like to see a guide developed, let us know.

This post was written by Lauren Stara on January 29, 2014

A Little History Lesson

I got a new book during the holidays: The Library: a World History, written by James W.P. Campbell and with photographs by Will Pryce. I saw the review a few months ago and it sounded interesting, but to be honest I thought I’d ooh and aah over the photos and put it on the shelf.

Au contraire. I started reading the introduction and I realized that this was not just a doorstop with pretty pictures. I’m about half-way through and I have learned about form and design in the library building type from ancient Sumer to the late nineteenth century. I’ve gleaned some great cocktail party conversation starters. For example, did you know that most of the knowledge we have about the earliest libraries is because of fire? Clay tablets, usually just baked in the sun, were “fired” when their building burned. These hardened tablets are the ones that have survived, in contrast to the total destruction of papyrus, vellum and paper in fires. Later libraries were entirely lit by daylight until the advent of electricity, since the potential destruction by lamps or torches was so great.

As the format and production of books evolved, so did the spaces and shelving styles that house them: from lecterns to alcoves to perimeter shelving; from chained books to grillwork cabinets to open shelves. We think we have it bad now, with collections growing out of the available space – imagine the poor librarians right after the printing press was invented! Collections, literacy rates and the services required grew exponentially.

The 21st century is the first time since Gutenberg that the shape of libraries has been determined by something other than printed books. People are using public libraries in unprecedented numbers. They want access to collections, sure, but they also want internet via library stations and wi-fi, programs and activities, and just a place to hang out. Libraries have become the de facto community center in many places, and people take up more space than books do.

We’re in a period of great flux now, and it’s harder than ever to answer the question “what will libraries be like in 20 years?” Over the last several decades, librarians have proven to be masters of resilience and flexibility; our buildings must reflect that flexibility. Mobile technology, furniture and shelving with a welcoming atmosphere and a philosophy of service is the model that seems to be working. We have to be ready for anything.

Postscript: this fabulous quote from the book shows that some things never change:

“The results of Beaux-Arts planning were all too often libraries in which librarians worked in increasingly impractical layouts, designed to look good on plan rather than function well in reality. This was the tyranny of the symmetrical plan.” –p. 225

This post was written by Lauren Stara on January 27, 2014

Let’s Roll!

In 2013, the MBLC* staff decided to retire the Construction listserv. The list didn’t have much going on, and didn’t seem to be serving much of a purpose any longer. In 2014, enter the blog. We’ll be posting on public library design, construction and related topics, and we’ll answer your questions about the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, our grants, and anything else that seems important at the moment.

While the MBLC* is a state government agency and the MPLCP** exists mainly to assist public libraries in Massachusetts in improving their facilities, we (Rosemary Waltos and Lauren Stara, the Library Building Specialists) want this blog to cast a wider net. Public library design and its history; trends that are changing the way library buildings look and function; libraries worldwide; and all types of libraries are fair game. It’s a very exciting time to work in libraries, and our facilities must adapt and change as well. Many of the libraries in our state were constructed long before automation – some even before electrification. These buildings tend to be festooned with spaghetti-like nests of extension cords and data cables to accommodate the information demands of the 21st century.

Sometimes we’ll use this forum to post information that is relevant only to grant applicants or recipients. Rosemary’s and my working life revolve around the grant cycle, and sometimes we forget that we have our own language and acronyms. Please ask if there’s anything that seems too arcane or laden with bureaucracy.

If you have questions about library design or construction, ask them. If you’ve been through a library construction project and have feedback or object lessons, chime in. We want this to be a conversation rather than pontification.

*Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners
**Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program

This post was written by Lauren Stara on January 24, 2014

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