Moline's new library a multi-million dollar disappointment
Have you been to Moline's highly touted new library yet? I suggest you go.
The spanking new facility opened on August 31st, but I was only able to finally check it out yesterday.
In my opinion, it's got all the warmth of a 60's era airport terminal. It's vast, cold, confusing, poorly planned and prepared, with evidence of over-spending on some items and skimping on others.
For starters, the first thing I noticed upon entering the rear door was that the ventilation system is far too powerful for the building, which results in a rush of air out of the building so strong that it literally opens and holds open a set of heavy double doors as long as the outer door is open.
On top of that, there's a high pitched whine like a distant tornado that's noticeable everywhere in the building and which rises and falls depending on if doors are being opened or not. Very annoying, and one would suspect the result of some sort of engineering error which hopefully can be fixed.
I next noticed a meeting room through an open door off the barren hallway. (see above) It's nicely appointed with wooden cabinets and a built in overhead projector and screen. But what caught my eye were twelve... one dozen... brand new high-end office chairs, specifically, what looked like Herman Miller Aeron chairs.
I'm familiar with these chairs and have priced them before. The Aeron chair has been the ultimate office chair since its inception, and a status symbol for executives for many years, due to its styling, comfort and high cost. Their unique design has inspired a million knock-offs though, and I thought that surely these must be some less expensive copies, as even the fakes are pretty darn expensive.
And I couldn't believe that any committee in charge of this project would ever dream of actually ordering a dozen real Aeron chairs. In light of the city being deeply in the red and the massive effort to raise money for the project, to literally blow money like that would be irresponsible at best.
The door to the meeting room was wide open so I walked in, wanting to see just how it felt to sit in one of these famous chairs, even though I was sure it was a cheaper imitation. I took a seat and it was very comfortable indeed, with the open mesh fabric and high tech suspension system, padded arms, and their highly polished aluminum frames.
But I had to know if they were actual Aeron chairs. I turned one over and looked, and to my shock, I saw a little label that proved that they were indeed, brand new Herman Miller Aeron chairs! And a dozen of them to boot.
But as I continued on my way into the library, I saw that another meeting room held dozens of Herman Miller side chairs, or basic chairs. These too, are very expensive. What were they thinking? I counted 50 of them in this room alone.
In the far corner of the room under a cover is the infamous baby grand piano, the one that the "Friends of the Moline Library" group decided to blow all their hard earned money on. After all their efforts to raise money over the years to support the library, and out of all the potential uses for the money which would help out the library, such as purchasing books, more computers, furnishings, decorations, childrens programs, etc, they decided instead to spend $18,000 on a piano for one of the meeting rooms.
What were they thinking? Some have noted that one of the members is a music teacher whose husband tunes pianos. But still, the decision is pretty inexplicable.
But back to those chairs.
I did some checking when I got home and found this site, which guarantees the lowest price on these chairs. I found to my shock that the polished aluminum frame option actually adds $250 to the cost of each chair. Not a sign that whoever ordered them was trying to economize.
And care to take a wild guess as to how much just one of these chairs go for, assuming that it's the stripped down "basic" model?
Just how much would you pay for one chair like the dozen bought by the library for one meeting room?
Would a couple hundred per chair sound reasonable? Guess again.
$500.00?? Nope, you're not even warm.
Try $948.00. ($699 + $249 for the polished aluminum frame)
Yep, you read that right, nearly a thousand dollars A PIECE.
Multiply that by a dozen and you get $11,376.00.
I have no idea if these dozen Aeron chairs were the only ones in the library, nor what sort of volume discount they surely got for purchasing both these chairs as well as dozens of side chairs, but cut that price by a 10% volume discount and you're still talking about $853.00 a pop. For a single chair.
Even assuming that discount, the dozen chairs would have cost Moline taxpayers $10,236 to furnish one small meeting room alone.
And that's assuming they're the "basic" model. If they're the "highly adjustable" models, (I didn't check) it would raise the price to a whopping $1150 a piece, (again adding for the custom frame) or nearly $14000 for a dozen. Knock 10% off of that and that's over $12,400.00 just for the dozen chairs in the room.
Then then there's the 50 + plastic and metal Herman Miller side chairs. How much do they go for?
Well, they're a bargain at $550.00 A PIECE if bought individually. Let's assume a 10% discount and lower that to $495.00. For the 50 chairs in the one room alone, that's a cool $24,750.
This isn't accounting for the many stools in the coffee shop (which is not open.) or the dozens of side chairs in the main library which would likely add a few more tens of thousands to the tab.
Assuming a 10% volume discount, the chairs in the two meeting rooms alone come to $34,986.00, or nearly $35,000.00.
The library is over budget and they're begging citizens for more funding. Yet this is the way they spent tax dollars? No wonder the city is in the red and has the highest tax rate in the Quad Cities.
$35,000.00 for 62 chairs and a brand new $18,000 piano? That's nearly $53,000 spent on furnishings for just two smallish meeting rooms that most of the public will never see.
When you're spending other people's money, might as well go whole hog, eh? It's hard to imagine that equally sturdy and attractive seating couldn't have been found for much less. Then they may have been able to spend the savings on, oh.... books perhaps?
One wonders if some local office supply company execs are large political contributors. That might explain why they overspent so wildly. Nah, that would never happen.
As mentioned above, one thing I've been anxious to check out is the new coffee/snack shop. It was something new and promised to be a real improvement over the old library.
But it's not even open, with no clue as to if or when it might be.
A sign on the door says it's closed because the lights haven't been "adjusted" yet. But another source said that they haven't been able to find a vendor who was willing to run the place. Huh? Call me naive, but shouldn't they have found someone to run it BEFORE it opened? Will it ever open? What's going on?
I've since found out from the City of Moline website that the coffee shop is slated to open "in September" with a grand opening scheduled for the 30th.
The appearance of the building in general is deadly dull and rather inhospitable.
The front of the library facing 41st street is generic and as dull as dishwater with a bland light brown brick facade that looks for all the world like a non-descript warehouse somewhere, but much less interesting than the front of most old factories. The bricks themselves have no texture or variation in color. It's as if the architect was purposely striving to make it as dull and uninspiring as possible.
But a large part of the building is clad from top to bottom in decorative and very expensive all copper cladding in two different patterns. But this very expensive detail is hidden on only the northeast portion of the building, essentially out of sight to anyone, and certainly invisible from the street as well as to anyone entering the main entrance.
Perhaps this pricey architectural detail might be more visible once they tear down the perfectly comfortable and inviting library building next door that this monstrosity is replacing.
It's truly as if the building is placed the wrong way on its site, with the intersting part hidden in the rear, and the deadly dull end facing the street.
One of the charms of the old branch library was that it was tucked into a wooded area, designed to take advantage of many old oaks and blend into a natural setting. The view from the children's section seemed to bring the woods right into the building through the trademark huge bubble windows. It was as if you were actually sitting in the woods. (with fairies and wise wizards too, no doubt)
If this new building had been turned around, the unique copper details would have been featured on the street side, while the gigantic windows in the library would have opened onto the soothing woods behind the building, rather than overlooking a busy intersection, empty field, and an animal hospital.
Apparently no thought was given to incorporating the wooded setting.
Another ill-conceived feature is that the book return slots are all the way in the rear of the building. One has to drive all the way to the back and around a tight circle to access the two slots, which are now built into the building itself.
This isn't a bad idea, except that there's no awning to protect from the weather, and the slots appear to be located so high up on the wall that everyone but those who drive Hummers or perhaps semi tractors will have to reach far in the air to reach them. Either that, or have to actually get out of their car. Again, poor planning on someone's part.
The enormous entrance foyer pretty much sets the tone for the entire place. It's cavernous, utterly barren, and you have no idea where to go. You almost wonder if you're in the wrong place, or maybe the library's not open yet. Despite it's enormous size, there's nothing there at all, only a series of easels with cardboard signs listing the big money donors to the project.
I imagine most morgues are more inviting than this.
It's never occurred to anyone apparently that visitors might need some simple directions, seeing as it's brand new to everyone and they have no idea where to go.
There's no signs whatsoever. Nothing. Not even any "Welcome to your new libary" signs. Just the displays touting the large donors.
But of course, once inside there were helpful signs and instructive handouts and fliers available as you walked in, as well as large prominent informational signs showing the floor plan and directing people to where the various sections were located. Otherwise, patrons would be left to wander about aimlessly not knowing where to go, or how to find anything in this new and bewildering facility.
Or at least you'd hope the above was the case. But you'd be mistaken. There's nothing. No signs, no pamplets, no nothing.
Want to find out how the new and confusing place is laid out? Looking for adult non-fiction? Then spend an hour wandering around aimlessly. That's pretty much your only option, unless you can find staff and pester them with questions every few minutes.
There are NO signs anywhere to indicate where, for instance, the reference section is, or where fiction or biographies are now found, except on the shelves themselves, but of course, once you see them, you're already there.
You'd think that at least there'd be some sort of overhead permanent signage to indicate where the major sections were at the very least. But you'd be wrong. There's not any attempt whatsoever to provide directional signs, not even something as simple as a sign indicating what is located on the ground floor and what is upstairs.
The new patron is left standing confronting a vast warehouse with no clue where anything is.
Short of paper on the ends of the shelves with their Dewey decimal contents hastily scrawled with magic marker, there's no clue as to where anything's located.
Nothing whatsoever was done to aid the public in finding their way round or to help them get acquainted with this new building. You walk in, and good luck. You're on your own.
Not surprisingly, the shelves appear pretty barren. They were obviously going for room to grow and expand as time goes by, and boy, do they ever have a lot of room. The shelves are only partially filled, and the entire place has a rather bleak and depressing aura, almost as if half the books have been stolen or removed. It's not clear whether they're moving in, or closing up.
Rather than having the stacks in a compact area that is easy to browse, they're now spread out so far and wide that they should give out electric scooters to patrons just to get around. Be prepared to hike a long way. The elderly will find this new place very hard to navigate.
Another thing I expected was some semi-private, cozy areas to enjoy a book, as you would obviously expect of a new library. Instead, there's vast areas of floor to ceiling glass windows under which are scattered overstuffed chairs which are no doubt comfortable.
But rather than sitting in a little nook, you're sitting under the glare of intense sunlight, as if you're reading on the sidewalk outside. You're right out in the open with no dividers or cubicle at all, as if you were reading in an overstuffed chair at the center of a parking lot.
It's truly like a warehouse with only stark square columns breaking up the open floor space. It's a bleak building inside and out, made even more so by the use of stainless steel railings and minimalist styling thoughout. No soft materials are visible at all, other than the upholstered chairs scattered around the outer walls. Everything else is featureless steel, glass, plastic, or concrete.
After several minutes and walking what seemed like a half mile to figure out that the adult section was upstairs, someone actually asked if I was finding what I was lookin for. A girl who was replacing returned books on the shelves, probably the least paid staff member, helpfully asked if she could help me find anything. There was a book which was listed in the online catalog as being on the shelf which wasn't there. She tried to find it in the newly returned books with no luck. She was the only staffer who was actually on the floor.
I finally found several books that looked interesting and carried them all over to the large staff desk area upstairs, only to find that I'd have to lug my load of books downstairs to check out. What purpose this large island desk with several computer monitors and two librarians behind it serves is unclear.
Once downstairs, I ended up using one of the self checkout stations, which of course, is completely unmarked. I had no idea they even had them. There's no overhead sign pointing them out, nothing to direct folks to them, and nothing to indicate they even exist.
I expected to have to wait in line to have an actual person check the books out, as in the past, and wandered up to what I assumed were some check out stations which weren't in use at the time, primarily to find a place to put down the heavy armload of books I'd been holding for about an hour and rest before I had to stand in line to check out.
It was only then that I happened to look down and notice a tiny label taped to the small counter. It said to place the bar code "like this". Huh? What was that all about?
After looking things over, I noticed a red laser pattern on the desk and thought I'd try to stick a book under it. Well what do you know? It actually checked out the book!
I'd found it completely by accident, and figured out how to use it by accident as well. But hey, I guess that's what they expect new patrons to do. Heaven forbid they'd have any signs or instructions up. It's only a new and completely unfamiliar library after all.
I guess it was a miracle that someone, probably only after being bugged unmercifully, finally decided to put a little piece of paper showing people which way to orient the bar code on the counter, which after all, was the only clue as to it's purpose. Otherwise, I wouldn't have known it was a self check-out station at all.
The self check-out system is pretty cool, and will no doubt save time. But I can't help but wonder if half the books in the library are going to end up being stolen, as all a person has to do is walk up to a self service island, check out perhaps one book out of many, or simply mimic checking out the books, and just walk out. There's no apparent system for ensuring that only checked out material leaves the building, unless there's some hidden tag on each book and a scanner at the door that I didn't notice. Hopefully, there's such a system in place.
If not, it seems to be an invitation to having books, videos, DVDs, CDs, and other media walking out the door with those who would rather borrow books and other material without a due date, otherwise known as thieves.
It's now possible to spend hours in this rather inhospitable and futuristic library without having any human contact at all. How nice.... I guess.
Once I'd checked out my books and was about to head for the door, I noticed a small pile of slick and expensively produced full color booklets that looked like some corporate annual report. Inside were the floor plans I'd tried in vain to find, (though with no explanation as to where anything is) as well as info and statistics on the library and lists of all the board members and fundraising campaign members.
It notes that the library was suppossed to cost $12.5 million, of which the City of Moline kicked in $10 million. They're now trying to meet a $2.5 million fundraising goal from the public.
The construction cost: $9,834,284
Furnishing and equipment: $1,672,321
Professional Fees: $758,862
Contingency: (huh? what's that, the coffee fund?) $234,533
Total Cost: $12,500,000
minus Moline General Obligation Bonds of $10,000,000
leaves $2.5 million to raise.
In 2004, Moline property taxes accounted for fully 92% of the library's revenue.
In that same year, only 12% was spent on actual library materials, while personnel costs were listed as consuming 70% of the budget.
It's emblematic of this library that they'd put these expensively produced booklets at the check out stand, which is the last place a patron stops before leaving. That pretty much sums up the entire place and project quite nicely. Spending money as if the publically funded library were some corporation flush with cash, then implementing it very poorly with little thought towards the actual library users.
I was very hopeful for this project, and truly looked forward to it with excitement and high hopes. I felt the project was ill-conceived and was dubious as to the need for such an extensive project to begin with, but I truly hoped that I'd be so impressed that I would feel it was all worth it, or at least feel that it wasn't a very expensive mistake.
Others, of course, may love the place, and I hope that's the case.
But as you can tell, I'm sorely disappointed, both with the design of the building itself, the thoughtless way there was absolutely nothing done to ensure that people felt welcome and were able to find their way around the unfamiliar place, and the obvious fact that someone in charge thought nothing of blowing thousands of dollars for top of the line seating, which only causes one to wonder what other extravagances there are which aren't as visible.
There's no doubt that the job of moving into the new building, getting things up and running, and working out the thousands of inevitable problems was an enormous undertaking. Just getting things running and functioning likely took a tremendous amount of work by many dedicated people, and I'm sure things will improve with time.
But one hopes that once the initial period of adjustment is over, they can begin to concentrate on trying to make this very expensive place less inhospitable and more user friendly, though the building will never be inviting, much less as comfortable and welcoming as the building it's replaceing.
It's still inexplicable to me why they didn't choose to expand the former library, rather than trash it and build this monstrosity from scratch.
I trust that as the library becomes more "lived in", things will improve, and I plan to try to like it, despite the bad first impression.
Let us know your impresssion of the library.