Library on the move, crunching numbers 

The Indianapolis Public Library, Central Branch, Downtown - COURTESY OF SERGE MELKI VIA FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
  • The Indianapolis Public Library, Central Branch, Downtown
  • Courtesy of Serge Melki via Flickr Creative Commons

Landlords harvest about $436,000 a year in lease payments for housing Indianapolis Public Library branch locations. About 50 percent of those payments go to support the Glendale Library, which IPL Chief Executive Jackie Nytes once worked to place as a core tenant at the Glendale Mall.

Now, according to IPL's preview of the five-year strategic plan that will guide the organization from 2015 through 2020, it may be time for the Glendale location to break free of the mall — and maybe get some windows. The next lease renewal might be time for the library to break free of the mall.

Likewise, Fountain Square's branch is set to migrate — perhaps growing in potential partnership with the University of Indianapolis. The Martindale Brightwood location would, according to the plan, do well to leave its current location in a neighborhood strip mall and grow into "the kind of place that can strengthen a neighborhood" — maybe even right across the street. The library at Flanner House is set to move north up Michigan Road.

click to enlarge The gray circles cover the areas best served by existing library branch locations. The library's new strategic plan seeks to better cover the county. Public input is currently being sought on the proposed changes. - COURTESY OF THE INDIANAPOLIS PUBLIC LIBRARY
  • The gray circles cover the areas best served by existing library branch locations. The library's new strategic plan seeks to better cover the county. Public input is currently being sought on the proposed changes.
  • Courtesy of the Indianapolis Public Library

Library branches across the city are hosting a series of public open houses where Nytes presents the library's proposed strategic plan and gathers as much public feedback as possible.

The remaining meetings are listed here:

Earlier this month, NUVO visited the College Avenue branch for a presentation on the new plan — and later met with Nytes for more details on the future of the library and the quest for a 2018 referendum. One of the core questions motivating Nytes in her work is, "What can we do so more people have more access to their public library?"

Here are some excerpts from that conversation, edited for clarity into Q&A format:

Q: How are you making do with the budget restrictions that accompanied the property tax cap?

A: We refinanced our debt for $11 million in savings on interest payments.

I pay $436,000 in rent payments ... If I didn't have those rental payments, then that money in operating budget is available for other things... Glendale is a pretty expensive lease – probably $220,000.

Q: Why finance new facilities and take on the risks and liabilities of property ownership?

A: It would be paid with debt service funds and, if that debt is from a referendum, it is outside of the property tax cap. It frees the operating budget by transferring the cost to debt service, but I can pay the debt service out of new money – I can't get new money for the lease. But since the bond issue involves paying interest ... whenever you have to add debt service interest, that building costs you more.

Q: What does this mean for Glendale?

A: Glendale has enough staff, they are just crowded and invisible. We were an asset that helped that mall. When the mall reinvented there was a lot of talk about the library leaving — the new model open-air mall is scary, we need the library to stay. I was on the city-county council that helped get the TIF (tax increment financing zone) that paid for its Glendale location ... I argued for it staying, but I sure never realized how isolated the library ended up feeling.

Q: Are there opportunities to partner with Indianapolis Public Schools by using old buildings?

A: Many are in locations that don't make sense for us as we look at the map of underserved locations. There are other underutilized opportunities. I'd like us to be able to develop on Sherman and become an asset to the Martindale Brightwood neighborhood, which has struggled. To be viewed as partner with Martin University could be a real plus — and an economic driver.

Some of our existing school partnerships are so wonderful. We are evaluating them right now and the kids who are in schools in the shared system are seeing higher levels of readership. There may be some correlation.

Q: The Fountain Square Library is also on the relocation list? That location is so charming ...

A: I advocated for this location, too. It has been charming and it has served its purpose. It has the third-lowest circulating facility that we have – clearly it has limitations: minimum parking, minimal study space, cramped ...

We are hopeful about early conversations with the University of Indianapolis — they are trying to be better connected with their neighborhood. We're looking at something kind of like what happened with the Children's Museum ... putting a branch library in there made a connection to neighborhood that would be more personal. We received a $5 million endowment for the Children's Museum branch.

We are blessed in the kind of support we get from the private community.

Martin University offers another opportunity for a partnership moment. I'm convinced there will be donors and believers who will help us make library bigger and better because it helps Brightwood.

Q: When will some of these strategies begin to be implemented and how will the financing work?

A: Our own bond issues don't roll off until 2020, 2021, so I can't sell a bond issue much before 2018. If I wait to sell in early 2018, then the tax rates doesn't hit until after the old debt is paid off.

We have $73 million in existing debt. Hopefully that will be paid off by the time we need to do a bound issue ... by refinancing, we reduced the life of the payout.

The library doesn't receive much county option income tax. Other libraries do, but not Marion County libraries because Indianapolis is a city of the first class and has different distribution rates ...

In our case and IndyGo's case, we didn't originally get county option income tax, so nothing offset the revenue loss that came with property tax caps.

There is financial housekeeping – the work ahead is to correctly balance our revenues. The event management sector for first time not only paid of itself, but threw off a little money. This year it is projected to grow. In addition, we are renting out parking.

Q: Speaking of financial issues, do you still have opportunities to help borrowers who have gotten in trouble with fines?

A: We are also coming up with a strategy for identifying blocked cards to reconnect those lost customers. Our "earn and learn" initiative allows kids under 18 to read books and work with librarian to wipe out fines.

Q: The plan predicts the physical collection ... what does that mean?

A: If we have 1.2 million physical items right now – I don't see us getting a lot more, as we weed out discarded items we'll replace the turnover.

It's all part of the move to digital. We use now use Collection HQ – it's the kind of market analysis tool that retail would use — it analyzes circulation patterns and tells you what's moving where. There are things that are just not of interest to people – it's OK. In the past we used a "just-in-case" approach as opposed to 'OK is this really going to meet a need?' Still, a lady came up to me and handed me a list of books we should not have removed ...

The physical collection is at its optimal size but the digital collection will expand while placing no demands on floor. This helped answer the space allocation question as we were working on the strategic plan. Architects were saying: "What do you believe is going to happen?" After weeks they realized library users want more study rooms and tables and you can get them by reducing the space allocated to the stacks.

Q: What are some of the other responses you've received to the plan so far?

A: I do understand criticism that bemoans the loss of human interaction as we re-align staff freed up by the increased use of automated checkout counters. When you lose that human touch, there is not someone there making it feel like it matters, there is not someone saying, "Now these books are due in three weeks." We see it at Lowes and Kroger. When you remove human interaction, the quality of the relationships does suffer.

Q: What are the limitations of this plan?

A: We've struggled a lot with notion of what does it mean: strategic plan. What am I really going to do? I'm going to create a teen area at Central — that is an action step. The kind of stuff not in the strategic plan is at action plan level. Actions will grow out of the principles and goals outlined in the plan.

Q: What can NUVO readers do to support the library?

They should go to the library website and give us comments. We are still gathering this feedback into March. There's still time for people to contribute.

We want people to let their elected officials know that the library is valuable to them.

Help spread the word about the library's value– if you're a library user, let someone know.

If you are trying to save some money, come to the library, come to a program.

"Cool Jazz for Kids" on Sundays at Central Library.

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