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June 11, 2013

Library marks 10th year in current facility

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

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The Southfield Public Library is marking its 10th year in the $36 million facility that first opened its doors June 15, 2003.

SOUTHFIELD — There’s no party to celebrate nor any cake to cut, but the Southfield Public Library hit a milestone this month: 10 years in the three-floor, 127,000-square-foot complex that houses more than 250,000 volumes.

“Ten years this month, and while we have seen some wear and tear, it’s still in great shape,” City Librarian Dave Ewick said. “We figured that it was a wonderful thing and all that, but with the situation we are in, you don’t go splurging for a celebration.”

That “situation” is what Councilwoman Joan Seymour said the entire community is facing: cutbacks due to the economic downturn.

Last September, the library cut its hours from 66 a week to 44 a week, making many cost-cutting decisions, including having employees on single shifts and cutting expenditures.

“We’ve all been affected the same way,” Seymour said. “When the library was being built, I was more than supportive — I was an advocate — and I believe this structure was the right one.”

So while the celebration may be a more subtle one, librarians, residents and city officials are taking the time to reflect and give a nod to the beautiful structure that fills out the Municipal Complex.

Seymour, who was not then on council, remembers the architecture firm holding blind sessions with various city groups to show five models of the possible structures, each one with a demonstration on advantages and features.

“I picked the one I wanted, which turned out to be the one that was built. What’s even more is that every group they had gone to picked the same one and nobody knew,” she added. “It was the right building.”

The Southfield Public Library serves residents of Southfield and Lathrup Village and is one of the newer and larger buildings in The Library Network association, serving the greater Southeastern Michigan population, too, according to Ewick. The structure is characterized by the glass tower, the Monumental Public Circulation Stairway, the Imaginarium Garden, the Readers’ Tree House, the Storybook Castle, the Space Station Program Room, fireplaces on each level, tons of natural light, a drive-up book return and service window, self-circulation features, wireless Internet access throughout the entire building, and 16 group-study rooms, among many other features.

When the facility opened in 2003, 92 tours were given that year for nearly 3,700 Southfield residents, each guaranteed a library card by the end. Public computers have increased from 35 to more than 190 computers for patrons to use, and computer assistants help guests every hour the library is open.

In 2012, the library served 524,745 visitors and loaned out 589,591 items, according to Ewick. This year, there are a few changes, but Ewick remains optimistic.

After scaling back in hours last fall, the library will be open on Fridays again.

“We close on Sundays during the summer and basically took those four hours and shifted them to Friday. It’s less expensive because Sunday is overtime for people,” Ewick explained. “I don’t know what happens in the fall, but it is my fondest hope that we will know enough to be able to keep those hours.”

Projections show that in the next couple years, the library will still be operating by dipping into its $4 million savings.

The good news about that is, according to Ewick, while he expected to need $700,000 from the reserve for annual operating costs, it might turn out to be closer to half of that to cover expenses this first year.

Statistical analysis shows the library still being used at a promising rate, he explained.

“Despite being closed one-third of our hours, our statistics don’t reflect that. We’re down about 19 percent (in circulation), but only down 3 percent (in visitors),” he said. “So people are still coming here, not borrowing as many books, but studying, using the computers, meeting in groups. The use is still here.”

The goal was to not go down to just five days a week, and Ewick said they are still working hard to keep the public informed and served at the library.

“The bottom line is that we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the library never has to close its doors,” he added.

The Southfield Eatery, the café opened last spring, mutually agreed with the library to not extend its contract and has now closed, Ewick noted. He does not believe a new café will be in that spot after the eatery marked the fifth vendor that struggled in the location.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the new building, a display is set up inside the library demonstrating the history that began as a simple library service in 1844 to the formation of the Friends of the Southfield Public Library in the 1950s, the humble beginnings in a two-room school house the following decade, to its move into the Southfield Civic Center complex shortly after.

The Southfield Public Library is open 1 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays; 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; and 1-5 p.m. Fridays for the summer. For more information, visit www.southfieldlibrary.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.