Adrienne Miles Holderbaum: Welcome to Library Matters, Montgomery County Public Libraries' Podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Library Matters is Montgomery County Public Libraries' Podcast. Each episode will explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. I am Alessandro Russo…
David Watts: And I am David Watts. We hope you'll join us as we discuss the challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the people they serve. In an effort to keep our library branch locations in optimum operating condition, Montgomery County has invested money for upgrades to the aesthetics and functionality of some branch locations. So that we may better understand this important process, we are joined today by our Public Services Administrator for Facilities, Rita Gale. Welcome to Library Matters, Rita.
Rita Gale: Thank you very much for inviting me.
David Watts: Please introduce yourself to our listeners and tell them what your background is and how you've been with MCPL.
Rita Gale: Okay. I am currently the public services administrator for space management, ADA, and collection management. I have been with Montgomery County Public Library since 1986. I joined the library system as a Branch Manager at the Potomac Library. And have moved up, became an agency manager at Rockville. And then when the public services administrator position which at that time was called library regional administrator position became vacant for the different area because we've been - the public service administrators had been various things in my career. We had areas at that time when the Gaithersburg area became vacant, I took that position. And I have been a variation of a public services administrator ever since 1988.
David Watts: Rita, if you wouldn't mind, could you explain to our listeners what the refresh process is properly defined as and how that occurs naturally?
Rita Gale: Okay, so basically in the library department previously we did our projects what we called through renovations. They were full scale often times teardowns of the buildings. The concept was that it was taking about 20 to 30 years to actually get through all of our libraries since we have 21 of them. And in library land, changes and modernization happens much faster than 20 year. So, we were not seeing that our facilities were current in 21st century by going through that process. Plus, it was very slow and very expensive.
So when we did our facilities plan in FY'13, the concept of refresh came through as a way that we could cycle through each of our facilities in a seven-year period and make changes to them, not on the grand scale that a renovation did, but in a very efficient and quick methodology to both refresh them from the perspective of having new paint and carpeting, but also modernizing them, so that they included elements of services that libraries throughout the country were offering. For example, collaboration spaces, also technology, the latest and greatest in technology.
For example, we offered charging stations for mobile devices. We had just put those and added those at Kensington Park and Twinbrook when we reopened them. So the refresh concept is relatively new for libraries. Definitely, new for the county and is just a better and a faster way of actually modernizing and refreshing our facilities.
Alessandro Russo: How are branches determined like which branches are selected for a refresh, how is that determined?
Rita Gale: Okay. So we have 21 facilities and we intend to refresh them all. The way that we determine the order of doing those refreshes was basically looking at the condition of the facilities. And so, we as I mentioned actually defined a scope of work. And in looking at that scope of work for all of our facilities and what feedback we had received from the community about what new things or what improvements needed to be made, input that we received from our funders about what they think we should we doing in our facilities. And then looking at the actual condition of our facilities, we made the decision in FY 15 which was the first year that we did refresh projects to modernize the Kensington Park and Twinbrook libraries. Those were libraries that we felt needed the most attention immediately.
As we have now gone through the process and done three libraries for FY 16 and are about – are in construction for the FY 17 projects, we've added some input that we've received which is the proximity of the libraries we choose to each other and the proximity of impact libraries for those projects as elements that we consider, but primarily we're looking at what the condition of the facilities are.
Alessandro Russo: Just to clarify, impact libraries meaning when a branch closes that means naturally there is going to be more people traffic at that specific branch.
Rita Gale: Well, and also the concept is that when we close a facility, we expect that the people – that our customers who use that facility are going to go some else hopefully to continue to have service while we're actually closed in the refresh branches. And so, the facilities that we expect those customers to go to are what we call our impact facilities.
David Watts: What are the advantages of a refresh as opposed to a renovation?
Rita Gale: I think probably the biggest advantage is that we get around to every single one of our facilities faster. We're actually able to touch every one of the 21 facilities as I said in a seven-year period. Previously when we were doing full scale renovations, it was taking us 20 years to get to maybe one, at the most two facilities. So, it was a really lengthy process. The other advantage is that our intent with the refresh projects is that they will be only closed 4 to 6 months. One of the things that we heard from the community when we did our full renovations was that it was taking a year-and-a-half to two years to complete the work in those facilities. We are blessed with customers who love us and who actually want their libraries all the time. And they were not very happy that they did not have library service in that two-year period. So, we felt that in addition to being able to improve our facilities that we were going to be able to also do that with less impact on the customers, not that there still isn't, but definitely less impact. And those are two things that we hope really are helping to sell the concept of refresh.
Alessandro Russo: What are the budgetary limits for refresh projects?
Rita Gale: So with all of the construction projects in the county, there is a budget called the capital improvement program budget, which is funded by the county. And it provides the primary means of paying for construction and improvements in county facilities. So, when we introduced the concept with the FY'13 to '15 – FY'13 to '16 facilities plan, we had the concept, but we really didn't have the funding in place. So we spent the first year actually talking with the county executive, with the office of management and budget, with the council about the advantages of this program and how we would like to have it funded on a continuous basis as opposed to having to go every year to solicit funding.
So, we were fortunate enough to receive what's called level of effort funding through the capital improvement program budget. And that means that for the six years of that capital improvement program budget, there is an amount allocated per year for these refresh projects to take place. Now in addition to that, we also wanted to incorporate where we could improvements that were needed in the facilities related to Americans for Disabilities Act. And the county has a separate division, the ADA compliance unit that has funding. And so we wanted to make sure that if there were improvements that needed to be made that we would do that at the same time.
And so, that unit actually funds some of the improvements that are made. And then, the division of facilities management who maintains our facilities has also level of effort funding for special projects like roof replacements, striping parking lots, replacing HVAC equipment. And we felt that if while we were doing the programmatic things in a refresh; there was building things that needed to happen like roofs and parking lots that we would try to coordinate that with the facilities management division. So when we do our projects, we try to do that.
And then funding for those elements comes from those budgets. And then, the final piece is that the Maryland State – the State of Maryland has funding called capital grants, which are strictly for capital improvements. They are meant for the 22 public library systems in the state. And we have to apply each year. And we have to compete. And we have been fortunate for all the years that we've been competing to receive funding from the state, which actually helps to contribute as well.
David Watts: If you wouldn't mind, Rita, could you give us a status update on your current projects which are in process? And perhaps, some of the upcoming plans for projects?
Rita Gale: Certainly. So as I mentioned, we have completed two projects, the FY'15 projects at Kensington Park and Twinbrook, both opened last year and are fully operational. We are currently completing construction on the Aspen Hill and Little Falls libraries. And they were two of three libraries in FY'16. The Davis Library was the third. And we just opened the Davis Library on April 8th. We are very excited. We've gotten great feedbacks so far about the improvements we made there. We don't have dates yet for Aspen Hill or Little Falls, but we're hoping within the next month – two months that we'll be opening those facilities.
We are also in preparation for the FY'17 refresh projects which are Quince Orchard, White Oak, and Bethesda. And both White Oak and Quince Orchard have closed for the beginnings of their refresh projects. Construction will start on Quince Orchard actually hopefully next week, and at White Oak, in a couple of weeks. And then, we have decided to hold off on Bethesda in terms of closing it because remember I mentioned that word impact before, well, one of the impact branches for Little Falls was Bethesda.
And so, we felt that if we closed Bethesda at this stage without having both Davis and the Little Falls open that we would probably hear from the customers telling us that that was a bad decision on our part. An so, our director made the decision that we would hold off opening – I am sorry, closing of Bethesda until we opened to Little Falls.
And then, we are going to go into design in July for the FY'18 projects which will be Marilyn Praisner, Poolesville, and Long Branch. Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: You mentioned earlier that different libraries are older than others and they kind of need specific projects for those. But just in general, how do - the refresh projects between branch is differ and how are they similar?
Rita Gale: So I would say that the similarities are that generally we work on bathrooms for all of the projects. Modernizing them and in many cases making ADA improvements. We usually carpet or put new flooring in and we usually paint. So, those are primarily the things that we carry over from project to project. The variations come in when we start putting in programmatic things that relate to the demographics of the community.
So, one of the things that we are trying very hard to do in all of our facilities, not so much from demographics, but because of the way that our public uses libraries now is what we call collaboration spaces. And our collaboration spaces are in closed rooms that will house between two and six individuals, who can be in that space for whatever collaborative efforts they're looking for. So it could be students who're working on a project, who need a space where they can talk and spread out papers, and maybe work on a computer, or it could be businessmen in the community who need a space to meet with somebody to talk about a business plan.
So, collaboration spaces are spaces that we'd like to put in, but we don't necessarily always have the room to put them in. An example of a demographic space that we look at, for example, we have never really build out our facilities to have dedicated space for teens, most of our facilities have an adult reading room and a children's reading room, but we haven't called out teens, and in many of our communities the demographic is that there are enough teens that we really feel like we should have spaces dedicated to them. So, that those are the kinds of things that vary from place-to-place. If we had a demographic that was heavily senior-related, we might create spaces that were a little different and at seniors. So, those are the more programmatic improvements that are related to what the community is about.
Alessandro Russo: You have to customize those localized communities.
Rita Gale: That's correct, yes.
David Watts: Rita, tell us about where staff is assigned while the branches are closed for refresh?
Rita Gale: So, the first couple of weeks, we keep the staff in the facility and they help us shut it down. In other words, get it ready for the construction company to come in. That usually involves going through storage cabinet, supply cabinets, reading out things that may have accumulated over years, so that we're trim and fit when we open up. If we're going to move collections, reorganize the space, we try to do that during those first two weeks. So pretty much by the time this staff leave after the first two weeks, we've got the building in a place where it is as organized as it can be and as reorganized spatially as it's going to be. The staff then go, again, to those impact branches that I mentioned before, we actually check with our staff to see where they would like to go with the impact branches that we identify. And then we also often times identify branches that need some additional staffing because they can seize another reasons. So, our staff generally then spend the next four months in those libraries helping the staff in those libraries to provide service to the customers, who hopefully they are seeing coming to those impact branches to receive service.
Alessandro Russo: And it also helps from the patron side to kind of if they never went to that library just an extra level of comfort to, you know - to familiar library face.
Rita Gale: Having another human being there that they actually have seen before who can help maybe introduce them to the services to have that particular library is laid out, maybe explain certain policies, yes, that's part of the reason why we feel it's important for them to be located in places where we expect that the customers from the closed branch are going to go.
Alessandro Russo: As far as from the public side has there any comments specific comments as far as they love the collaboration spaces, they love the paint jobs and anything that kinds of sticks out to you?
Rita Gale: Well we see positive input again we've opened Kensington Park and Twinbrook at those two libraries one of the things that we did, we made a conscious decision to move the children rooms in both those locations which were spaces that were open and we move them into closed spaces and the spaces that from what I understand the feedback that the branches have – those two branches have received, that they received very positive feedback from parents, caregivers, people generally about those spaces and how they were designed, I mentioned that we just opened the Davis Library on April 8 and I understand that one of the things that people have said about Davis is that even though we didn't do lighting improvements in the aspect of replacing light fixtures, we actually changed out the light bulbs, put all new bulbs in and fit it out the ones that perhaps were lit and people have commented about how much brighter the branch is which was an unintended consequence for us. We've also heard that the collaboration spaces at Kensington and Twinbrook are very well used and we're starting to see that at Davis where we also have collaboration spaces.
David Watts: You preciously stated that all the branches will eventually be refreshed, what are the next steps when that has occurred, when all the branches have been completed?
Rita Gale: Well as I mentioned we have a six-year capital improvement program budget and we expect that within seven years we'll get through all 21 facilities and because we really feel that this model is working well for us, we believe it's working well for our public that we expect to yes that we're going to ask for that capital improvement program to be extended for another seven years and our full expectation is that we will start all over again, now we may not start in the same order because we have learned some lessons, but again remember what I said is that part of the reason we're doing it is not just to refresh the building, but to modernize the building and even in seven years, we probably will have had many changes occur in library land that we will want to see implemented in these facilities.
So we fully expect that we will have different changes to make, but that in seven years when we start over again, we'll have we may paint again, we may carpet, but we will have other programmatic and service related things that we can implement and again the piece about the funding is that we may not necessarily always be able to fund everything the first go around, so the other piece about having funding to go back again a second time is that we may be doing things that we haven't done the first time. So for example, we haven't been able to spend a lot of time and effort and work on our staff areas and so on the second round we may actually make improvements to our staff areas in addition to our program, our public areas.
Alessandro Russo: Are there any current trends you see in the current library refresh projects like as far as the charging stations I know we're kind of a big one is there anything?
Rita Gale: Well, one of the things that we're technologically one of things that we're working on doing is making our meeting rooms and where we can space wise with our collaboration spaces what we call smart rooms and by that I mean that we're trying to put equipment into those rooms that the public can use to do, to help them with that piece that I described about collaboration.
So, that if the person brings a laptop and wants to show the other people in the room something that they've designed perhaps or they want to do a mini presentation that instead of having glass walls which we have in many of our collaboration spaces which don't do well for projection. That we will have equipment that is inherent on the table that they can actually do, so we're looking at that for example in our collaboration spaces. In our meeting rooms instead of having what, what's called LCD projectors and I'm not sure what that abbreviation stands for, but we had projectors mounted on the ceiling that we then would project on to a screen.
We're actually putting in TV's, so we actually have TV monitors, TV screens that on which the customers will plug in to do their presentations and show them on a nice large screen. We've also introduced laptops and we at some point in time are going to look at putting iPads or tablets not necessarily iPads, but tablets for customers to use in the branch because while we have workstations with actual equipment PCs.
We also have all of these this furniture that part of the refreshes to put electric near every piece of furniture, because everybody brings in a device that needs to be plugged into something and so, what we want to do is take advantage of that electric and say okay instead of putting PC's in our locations what will do is will loan the customers laptops to plug into or loan them a tablet to use, so that we can maximize the space again.
David Watts: Rita, have you developed any favorite features in the Refresh process?
Rita Gale: Well, I would say that my favorite piece about the Refresh projects is, is the fact that in four months we can actually improve them so, that they look all of our facilities look different that they, they don't that they're not as tired looking, that they're modernized and that people are energized by coming into these buildings and seeing that we can actually make improvements and we don't have to close them down for two years. So, I don't have a specific individual thing, but I am energized by the concept that we can actually make visible improvements to those facilities that will make them hopefully better for the, our customer base and also more modern for our customer base.
David Watts: And maybe just give you a victory lap here great project in Silver Spring. Recently awarded as Design EX award for urban libraries I believe. I know that was a great collaboration for you with the planning office and with the project manager. Now you've got Wheaton that's about ready to start, you want to add anything about that?
Rita Gale: Well, definitely Silver Spring is a new construction it was a project that was designed to move out of a about 14,000 square foot facility into a 70,000 square foot facility so a much larger facility of a very well use base, very loved library in terms of the community and how much they're using at end and all of the services.
And you are correct that the other new construction that has just begun is with the Wheaton Library and Community Recreation Center, our first project where we will actually physically be collocated in the same building with a recreation of the Community Recreation Center. We currently on the same campus at Marilyn Praisner with a Community Recreation Center, but that's a campus location not a building location. So, the demolition of the Wheaton Library occurred a few weeks ago and construction is underway.
Alessandro Russo: It's our tradition here on Library Matters to ask our guest what their favorite book is or also is there any is there a book waiting to be read on your nightstand.
Rita Gale: So, I like to travel. So, what I have on my nightstand right now are Fodor's guides for Alaska, because I'm going to be taking a Cruise this summer to Alaska. And so, I'm reading up I also have things that I would love to read that I just don't have that, have not had a chance and there are two series that I'm interested in reading one is the wicked series a play that I saw at the Kennedy Center that just loved one of my very favorite ones by Gregory Maguire. And I'm also a big fan of an A&E Program that has gone over to Netflix called Longmire and Greg Johnson has written a whole series of books and I would love to be able to actually get around to reading those as well.
David Watts: Well, we want to thank you for being our guest today; certainly we wish we could go in there Alaska Cruise with you. But we do hope that you have an enjoyable time and we do congratulate you on all your success as a Public Administrator.
Rita Gale: Great, thank you so much for inviting me.
Alessandro Russo: And then for listeners, keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don't forget to describe to the podcast on iTunes Stitcher or whatever, wherever you get your podcast from. Also please review and rate us on iTunes. We love to know what you think. Thank you, and see you next time.